Review by Michelle Sutton
Presented by Elephant Camel Productions and 7th Floor Productions, Outside The Gate is a snapshot of an unlikely friendship between two outsiders formed at end of the day pick up at a private school in a small, conservative English town. Written by Claire Lebowitz King and directed by Hilda Cronje, the play runs for 45 minutes and is a two-hander, featuring two dynamic and compelling female leads. Outside The Gate highlights the similarities and differences of two women, born into different cultures with different expectations to contend with, but both navigating the social politics of school parents and a small town gossip.
The set is completely sparse except for a painting of a metal school gate which the actors stand in front of. A small number of props are used throughout and the simple lighting is by Sarah Hill. All of the storytelling depends on the script by Lebowitz King and the strength of the performances. The playwright Claire Lebowitz King also performs the role of American mother Heather, whilst Betsabeh Emran plays Iranian mother Samira. Both actors fully commit to their roles and to their relationship with each other, creating a believable chemistry and rapport with one another. Emran gives a particularly affecting performance as the earnest, stressed and scared Samira, struggling to fit into her new community and working hard to ensure her sons can avoid trouble and succeed at school, whilst not displeasing family back home in Iran. The show manages to do a lot with a little, utilising phone calls and one-sided conversations with children and class teachers to flesh out the world of the characters. With excellent direction by Cronje, Lebowitz King and Emran are able to do a great job of these conversations, especially when interacting with the kids, they maintain a frantic, concerned, chaotic energy that evokes the sense of small children running around.
Hilda Cronje’s direction is brilliant, keeping the pace fresh, leaving the perfect amount of time between scenes to represent the passing of days and bringing out the substance in the conflict of the two-hander. With its short runtime, Outside The Gate offers the perfect glimpse of a believable relationship, showing the characters day-to-day lives, flaws and all. The script is nuanced and skilfully and cleverly written, slowly revealing more about the characters and their backgrounds as the show goes on. Lebowitz King’s dialogue is real and honest, painting characters that we identify easily. This play tells a beautiful, vulnerable and authentic story of two different women trying to live the best lives they can by loving and caring for their families and ensuring their children have the opportunities and resources that they did not. This play whilst short, delves into complex issues of politics and privilege and manages to discuss them sensitively and intelligently without being patronising or dismissive of either character.
Outside The Gate is an engaging and empathetic character study of two women in the same town both trying to make the world a better, safer, more equal place with the resources and power that they have at their disposal. It is simple and effective, drawing you in and making you care and question.