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A CurtainUp London London Review

The Guards told us that we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. — Larry
Andrea Harris as Beatrice
(Photo: Thierry Bal)
The Jericho House have taken over the Bargehouse at the Oxo Tower, an old warehouse and converted the space into a production, part installation part theatre, sound and music recollecting the events of the New Orleans hurricane of 2005. Using verbatim reports of the testimonies of the survivors they catalogue the lack of response of the authorities and the terrible disorganisation of the police and local government. Local inhabitants had not been able to obey the call to evacuate New Orleans because they did not have their own transport and with their homes flooded, they had to survive for a week without provisions and fresh water.

The inspirational story is there of Beatrice (Andrea Harris) whose partner Virgil dies during the hurricane and she decides to take his body the five miles to City Hall, wading through the flood water and floating his corpse on a makeshift raft of a house door. Towards the end of her journey she has become national news and she is buzzed by helicopters as the television networks try to get footage of her. Katrina is her story and those of the people she encounters on her journey.

There is Dan (Joe Speare) freed after five years on death row and picked up again by the police and treated as if he is a murderer. We meet Miranda (Wunmi Mosaku) who is looking for shelter with her daughter and granddaughter and who asks why America can help all those disaster regions around the world like the areas hit by the tsunami and yet not provide for their own nationals in Louisiana. A young man, Cal (Andrew Dennis) not a stranger to criminal behaviour finds his decent nature in the crisis and rescues many people from the roofs of buildings, rowing them to safety. Lorrie and Larry (Stepanie Langton and Orlando Wells) are tourists staying in the French Quarter who are directed to the bridge where they are told that a bus will take them out of the area, only to be threatened by armed police when they reach the bridge. Their temporary quarters in the middle of the freeway is destroyed by the authorities and their food and water stolen by the sheriff.

Initially played to us is the Biblical description of Noah's flood with its grandeur of dramatic language. At the beginning we go into a New Orleans bar where Miranda sings some jazzy numbers and as we progress through rooms with television sets playing news footage from 2005 we hear the deafening noise of the wind and the hurricane. The television goes out as the power goes down and it is quite frightening. We end up in the same bar as before but now it has been battered by the flood water and destruction. Radio commentary tells us an area the size of seven Manhattan islands is under water and such is the concern about looting that the troops have been instructed to shoot to kill looters. A lone trombonist in a white suit plays his mournful tune. This is Virgil, Beatrice's man, who will die in the hurricane.

Somehow, despite the best of intentions, Katrina doesn't really immerse us in the atmosphere of either New Orleans or of the storm damaged area. Although the accounts themselves are moving, I never believed that we were listening to anyone except actors. The actual television footage shown at the end of the show with residents talking about what had happened to them was more real and distressing. I know that I learnt much I didn't know before but I didn't feel I was there. There is a New Orleans type funeral procession in the final room with white suits, umbrellas and a white draped coffin with jazz which we wait a long time for as the whole cast has to change into the fresh costumes but it feels contrived and celebratory.

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Written and directed by Jonathan Holmes

with: Andrea Harris, Wunmi Mosaku, Joe Speare, Andrew Dennis, Stephanie Langton, Orlando Wells, Michael Mwenso
Design: Lucy Wilkinson
Lighting: Paul J Need for 10 out of 10
Music: Peter Nash for Monty Funk
Composer: Peter Readman
Running time: One hour 45 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7922 2922
Booking to 26th September 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th September 2009 at the July 2009 performance Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, Bargehouse Street, London SE1 (Tube: Waterloo)

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