A remarkable and convincing experience of theatre at "Percy and Camille" last night. It was a strong and worthwhile performance, with a particular focus on the character and development of Ingrid.
Right from the start one was gripped by the particular, individual personality of Ingrid as a contemporary middle-class, middle-aged, single English woman, and the situation in which she places herself. We found the acting of all four characters was strong and convincing - Beatrice as Percy the cat, Yana as Camille (the displaced young woman who is placed by social services in Ingrid's flat, with its basement), in addition to the very authentic and overworked social worker, as well as Ingrid as the central character. Beatrice brought the cat to life as a walking, talking creature given almost human quality by Ingrid's own disorder. Yana made the isolated, damaged and displaced Camille completely believable.
The set was authentic, well designed and gave the acting strong central focus.
All in all, the play stays in the mind in a disturbing way.
I have one minor problem with the text of Jo Pratt's play.
One doubts if other viewers felt this problem, but one finds it hard to believe that a girl who grew up in a rural Pushtu-speaking family up to the age of nine would not have continued to wear Islamic dress for women, and not to have had concerns for "halal" (forbidden) foods.
The name "Camille", as a French name for women, also obscures this issue, although "Kamla" is a Muslim name for a woman in Pakistan's national language, Urdu (and also a Hindi name). See below:
Meaning, Beautiful Woman.
Lucky #, 8 *.
Short Name, YES.
This was not an issue which diminished the dynamic of conflict in the play. But one does feel uneasy when English cultural or political people such as
Jo Pratt obscure an Islamic cultural issue as if it did not exist. To do so weakens authenticity. One does questions how Jo Pratt as a dramatist would re-address this issue?
Percy & Camille explores the problems of taking a migrant into your home but absolutely does not offer any answers. A right wing audience could take it as vindication of their beliefs and a liberal left audience can sympathise with the thanklessness and agonising internal turmoil of doing the right thing. Ingrid, who lives alone with her cat Percy, is almost obsessed with doing, and being seen to do, the right thing when she takes Camille, an Afghan refuge girl, into her home. Her perception of the girl is not so dissimilar to that of the Nobel Savage of literature. She is beautiful and strong and yet does not drink the tea of a civilised nation. The play is told through narration, video, audio news clips and live action sequences. The play is shown in flashback. We know something bad has happened to Camille and we are to learn that Percy & Camille plot to kill her. Though we don’t see her murder we know she disappears and Ingrid is carrying guilt with her but like most things about the play we don’t have a definitive answer. Ingrid’s cat is played almost exclusively as a human, her slightly strange sentence construction being the only compromise to her being an animal. The cat is afraid of Camille and Camille takes every opportunity to lock the cat in the cellar. Perhaps it takes too long for us to realize that the actor is portraying a cat and not a human and occasionally the clever cat language is hard to follow. Camille is shown to be manipulative and deceitful and is easy to dislike. Yet in a short monologue she makes a simple statement of being one who has lost all trust and gives nothing and we can feel that this is the result of the horrendous trauma of being sold by her father to pay off drug lords leading to displacement, possible multiple rapes and loss of everything. Ingrid is not much easier to like than Camille except in one brilliant monologue where she loses her thread and goes off on a drunken funny aside almost verging on stand-up comedy. This is a show highlight and blessed relief amongst the bleakness. This is a good example of how this play treads a fine line around theatrical conventions and expectations. Parallels can be made between the cat’s story of its time in a pet shelter with migrants in detention centres and in some ways the cat and Camille have a similar presence in the stage space of Ingrid’s home, both often silent, the cat retreating to the cellar while Camille retreats to Ingrid’s bedroom which she has commandeered. The play could lose five minutes of repetition but generally flows well. The play is verging on the psychological horror genre and if it were a film could be very dark and scary. If you need a spoon fed answers this will not be to your taste, this play is about laying your conscience open for
self-analysis. I think this play would play well at the Edinburgh fringe.