Rika’s Rooms

Rika’s Rooms is the second in the series of four works that form the Playground Theatre’s season of plays by Gail Louw and features Emma Wilkinson Wright in the eponymous solo role.

The story is emotionally charged and difficult to tell, but Wright rises to the challenge

The play is an adaptation of Louw’s novel of the same title. That work is based on the life of her mother who fled from Nazi Germany to Palestine, where she had an uneasy existence in a kibbutz, which she soon left, married and moved to South Africa, where she had to adjust to the alien environment of Apartheid and the waging of new battles. She had become accustomed to fighting for freedom when embroiled in the cause to abolish the British Mandate and create the state of Israel. She had some affection for the man whose death she enabled and that still plays on her conscience.

Now aged seventy-six, she lives in England and has debilitating dementia. In her past she lived in many rooms in different countries, some of which she remembers well, but now she finds herself in the basic surroundings of her care home. This physical space is of little significance to her; the rooms she inhabits are in her head and it is her mind, full of memories, some distorted, that takes her from place to place in a manner that is beyond her control. Her two worlds are the present, which makes no sense, and the past, that is populated by ghosts.

The story is emotionally charged and difficult to tell, but Wright rises to the challenge of portraying Rika’s current state of dementia and contrasting her pitiful condition with scenes from events in her life delivered from those periods, as she was. These provide a refreshing alternative approach to the storytelling and highlight how a once bright and charming woman has gone into degenerative decline.

Here current living space and the other locations that feature in her life are realistically portrayed in Male Arcucci split two-room set adorned with pictures, which allows for plenty of movement and an intervening outdoor area. The two doors work convincingly to establish entry into different areas and times. Her costumes capture the period and Lighting Designer, Petr Vocka has done an outstanding job establishing a complimentary array of moods and effects that support the changes Wright brings about through voice and movement. She delivers Rika’s current lamentable condition with sensitivity, presenting us with a tragic figure whose demise is in such marked contrast to the energetic and vibrant Rika of former years. She consistently applies the array of voices, accents and mannerisms she has developed for different people and the stages in her life, creating identities for them all. Her energy is as well placed in the sexually charged young woman as it is in the marked contrast she portrays in the hapless old lady.

Director Anthony Shrubsall harmonises all these elements into a production that deftly flows from place to place and through the highs and lows of one remarkable woman’s life.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Rika’s Rooms is inspired by the playwright’s mother, who moved from Nazi Germany to Palestine and then into the midst of Apartheid, where Rika becomes a war victim and freedom fighter. Aged seventy-six, and living in England with dementia, Rika inhabits two worlds: the present, which makes no sense, and the past, populated by ghosts.

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