Review by Charlotte Leamon
Porpoise Pool written by JoJo Zhou is a surrealist new work, reflecting important themes of motherhood, coming of age, and technology. A pale blue set contains one bucket and one sofa where Lou, acted by Meg Clarke lies amongst her clothes.
The play opens with a sequence in which Lou is in a dream-like state, the lights and sound are very effective in portraying the inner disturbances of Lou as she sleeps. Flashing lights that change colour and a tremolo build of sound creates the correct ambience of what is to come.
As we come to know Lou, she is blunt and firm. She is a construction worker who smokes religiously and most importantly has a four-year old son named Mason. As Lou is slowly falling apart and struggling with mental health issues she finds it hard to look after herself, let alone her son. House, her new AI assistant who helps with the groceries, life updates and more is a helping hand and a dangerous friend to have. As House gets to know Lou more, she replicates actions and habits if Lou’s which eerily allow Lou to lose sense of self. Zhou cleverly writes the relationship between Lou and House to be caring at first, soon becoming toxic as House convinces Lou she is not safe to be around Mason.
As characters are introduced, we understand why Lou hurts and struggles. The design team integrates reality and dreams in an interesting way, feeding elements from one into the other in order to confuse the audience. Reintroducing characters with fish elements — a shark, a seal, a lobster, and an octopus. Integrations of the oceanic world are symbolic of Lou’s attachment to her son Mason who loves the sea and its animals. Additionally, the solitary life of a porpoise represents Lou’s imposter syndrome and feelings of isolation. She lives in a world in which others look in, only being a vessel for which she birthed her son.
Meg Clarke portrays Lou perfectly, harnessing anger and aggression into a transitory emotion for sadness and hurt. With the help of Zhou’s writing, we understand from the beginning that she is not angry for reasons of disgust or hatred, rather the struggles of motherhood. Having an absent mother, Lou feels lost in life as Mason’s father has a clear path set for him by his controlling mother, Helen.
As Lou loses her sanity, House enters her life as a motherly figure. Adopting her as her own, caring for her safety and ensuring nothing bad will happen to her. As we delve into Lou’s past, House turns back memories and changes them to be happier for Lou. House played by Jane Mahady is a perfect fit for a real AI simulation. The costuming and physical direction is unflawed, Mahady moves in robotic strides and her facial expressions flicker emotions in a way that is unnervingly unnatural. In a swipe of a hand House can stop and rewind moments in time. At first this is very appealing to Lou, however she realises this is not how she remembers these moments as reality and dreams are blurred into one.
Zhou writes a confronting play, addressing modern themes in a surrealist noir way. Clarke represents Zhou’s vision admirably through living through her character Lou. Overall, an interesting play which highlights motherly relationships and technological advancements in a new light.