A sense of homeliness pervades this tremendous poetic drama by Malaika Kegode. It’s in the rugs and lampshades of Rebecca Wood’s set. It’s in the way animator Christopher Harrisson sketches himself waving to the audience. And it’s in the interval drinks brewed by Left Handed Giant, whose employees include onstage guitarist Joe Williams.
Above all, it’s in Kegode’s welcoming cheer. As a performer, she is open and guileless, lacking actorly pretence and willing to be vulnerable as she tells her true-life tale in Jenny Davies’s free-flowing production. Playing off the musicians of Jakabol, who gamely take on speaking parts, she is compelling in her plain-speaking honesty.
The homeliness, though, is deceptive. Not for nothing does Kegode namecheck Irvine Welsh and Jack Kerouac in her story of five friends trailing each other from party to party in the years from 2011. The drugs flow freely – and fatally – but the setting, far from Welsh’s Leith or Kerouac’s Manhattan, is small-town Devon, a world of slow train journeys, midnight fields and posh hippies.
The camaraderie and the grief is no less intense, as reflected in a score that has the emotional range of the Velvet Underground; bucolic one minute, psychotic the next. No mere incidental music, Jakabol’s folk-prog workouts pick up on Kegode’s themes and amplify them, the line between speech and music seamless and organic.
Meanwhile, in our own homes, the live stream is technically accomplished, mixing Harrisson’s bright white animations into the picture and using a split screen to show conversations between Kegode and harpist Emmy Broughton on opposite sides of the stage. The effect is to bring us close to the production’s warm and fragile heart.
Outlier is at Bristol Old Vic until 26 June, and will be livestreamed on 25 June.