Lola, Vault Festival – Review

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Lola (Gemma Barnett) and Jez (Rob Ostlere)

Like many many girls and women, Lola receives a lot of unwanted male attention. As an 18-year-old student with large breasts, Lola not only has the rest of the male student body to contend with, her ex in the sixth form constantly stares at her. But without his actions progressing into physical contact, what action can anybody enforce? Written by Hannah Nixon and directed by Melissa Dunne, Lola revels in the shades of grey that moral conundrums conjure up.

The play opens with Lola (Gemma Barnett) having a conversation with her teacher Jez (Rob Ostlere) in the car. Whie they’re driving in the rain, Lola opens up about the hard time she’s having with her ex and her ‘powerlessness’ in the situation. Jez sympathises with her and while he doesn’t have any ready-made answers for her, the fact he doesn’t think she’s imagining what’s happening or dismissive of her feelings is a comfort in itself.

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A time for frankness with Jez (Rob Ostlere) and Lola (Gemma Barnett)

Lola’s experience with Olivia (Joanne Ferguson) – another teacher, couldn’t be more different. Olivia focuses firmly on Lola standing up for herself since a) men will ‘always’ behave live this and b) women have more power than they realise, so they should use it. However, after Lola’s admission that she’s been speaking with Jez, Liv is apoplectic. The way that Olivia steers the direction time and time again towards Jez, the audience is left wondering if there are some really serious allegations in the past regarding Jez that we’re not privy to or whether Liv really is myopic in terms of how lightly she takes Lola’s testimony.

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Solemn times with Lola (Gemma Barnett) and Olivia (Joanne Ferguson)

The rest of the play deals with the escalation of ‘behaviour’ from the other male students, and Liv and Jez having ‘words’ over what educational guidelines stipulate regarding staff behaviour. With Jez warned about spending any ‘alone time’ with Lola, the parameters of the pastoral care he can offer is limited. Without this lifeline and Olivia’s words still echoing in ears, Lola is running out of options…

The three actors have great chemistry together, exhibiting the necessary ‘closeness’ or exasperation that each are meant to feel in a given scene. The other roles that they play during the ‘vignettes’ shed light on what ‘support’ Lola gets elsewhere and her frame of mind outside the classroom.

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Much of the play deals with the letter of the law versus human interaction and how in dealing with things in a litigous fashion, the needs of the individual are overlooked. Had Lola finished without the last 10 minutes, it would have been a very different play. However, what with the final revelations and Lola’s own U-turn regarding certain matters, the play shifts into different territory with regards to culpability, motives and knowing one’s own mind.

© Michael Davis 2019

Lola runs at the Vault Festival until 27th January (with additional 4.30pm matinee on Sunday).

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