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Justin Murray

Review: HURRICANE DIARIES at the Blue Elephant Theatre

Hurricane Diaries The first thing you notice on entering the Blue Elephant for Hurricane Diaries is how dark it is. It feels rather like a cellar, the naked theatre lights providing the only illumination. As pre-show conversations die down, the effect is compounded by the realisation that water is dripping on to the floor from somewhere. The first time we meet performer (and writer) Amanda Villanova, it’s to see her her groping round with a torch, and catching the drops of water (created, spoiler alert, with slowly melting bags of ice suspended from the ceiling) with pots and pans.

The sounds of these various drips (which, one assumes, are different every night) create a soundscape which underscores all the different scenes and time periods the show visits as it jumps around through Villanova’s memories of childhood and adulthood, her mother’s diaries, and her feelings of displacement now she lives in the UK. It’s a fantastic design offer and never gets directly alluded to or explained, which is lovely.

As a performer Villanova is highly watchable, fully committed to breathing life into each new place she whisks us to. Standout moments include a scene showing her, and her country’s, reaction to Puerto Rico beating the USA at the Olympics in 2004: the tension and stakes she injects into this moment are impressive. Some sections are self-consciously didactic, consciously throwing slightly too much information at us about Puerto Rican history, which are, for me, some of the most interesting parts of the show - even if there might be slightly more theatrical ways of communicating what she wants to say.

The piece covers a lot of ground about the immigrant experience, the agonies and insecurities of activism, and above all the struggles of Puerto Rico as a nation - if anything Villanova may be trying to do a little too much, leading to individual sections feeling a little disparate. Though there’s a vague uniting thread of being caught in forces beyond one’s control, whether political or natural, delving into fewer areas in more detail might lead to a more satisfying show.

It’s at its best when it wrong-foots us: at one point we think a university boyfriend is going to assault her, she ends up buying him a sandwich. We could stand to have more of this. I’m also not always 100% sure which generation of her family we’re in, or which hurricane we’re dealing with, but this doesn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Hurricane Diaries is certainly worth a watch for anyone interested in Puerto Rico, plays about the place of the immigrant in the diaspora, or solo work. It’s on all month as part of Blue Elephant’s autumn season. Shows still to come include Ellipsis, a work-in-progress performance by new group The Rose Company, as well as Way Back When, a free production for families created by Blue Elephant Theatre for Black History Month exploring Afro-Caribbean heritage and folklore.