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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Arifa Akbar

Imposter 22 review – deconstructed detective story never quite comes together

Dayo Koleosho in Imposter 22.
Meta-theatrical cleverness … Dayo Koleosho in Imposter 22. Photograph: Ali Wright

This postmodern whodunnit begins, tantalisingly, with a body lying prone in what looks to be a crime scene. Seven neurodivergent characters reconstruct events leading up to this moment. Fearing their account will not be believed, they enlist the audience to be their “normal” witnesses.

They also persuade homeless Danny (Jamael Westman, of Hamilton fame) to play Joe, the title’s impostor, who follows Todd (Dayo Koleosho) into his drama group one morning and tries to pass himself off as neurodivergent too.

A co-production with Access All Areas, a company for learning disabled and autistic artists, and five years in the making, this is a deconstructed detective drama that is full of promise but stalled by its underbaked plot, some halting performances and a plodding pace.

Directed by Hamish Pirie, the production was co-created by its seven central performers: Kirsty Adams, Cian Binchy, Housni Hassan, Dayo Koleosho, Stephanie Newman, Lee Phillips and Charlene Salter. They flip between dramatising the past and pausing to reflect on their re-enactment of it.

Cast members ride in a giant pink swan.
Atmospheric … Imposter 22. Photograph: Ali Wright

Cai Dyfan’s lush set design is reminiscent of Prospero’s magical isle when the action is moved (inexplicably) to an island, while Xana’s sound design is atmospheric, and there is plenty of deadpan humour in Molly Davies’ script.

But the drama does not gel, despite its meta-theatrical cleverness – or perhaps because of it. At times we are not entirely sure what is happening, or why. Danny is ordered on to a giant hamster wheel at one point. Later he disappears, after which Todd (Koleosho) takes over to play Joe. This leaves us confused; the intrigue dissipates, while the end twist feels weak.

Joe’s motives are never made clear, either, beyond being lonely and desperate to be part of a group. A man with depression, he is called a “tourist cunt” for ingratiating himself into this neurodivergent group. But his depression is treated with flippant disregard, which strikes a peculiar note. Westman stands passively for the most part, or follows instructions as others choreograph his movements, and it seems like a waste of his stage presence.

Two powerful moments stand out: when Rose (Newman) has sex with Joe in a scene spoken through a mic to a musical beat, which has the same lovely, bawdy intensity as Flesh in Graeae’s Crips Without Constraints series, and a searing scene with the desperate Kev (Hassan), which brings skin-burning lyricism. These glance towards a far more potent play into which this one might have developed.

Until 14 October

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