Ally Shilson's debut Compartmentalisation 101 takes flight into the uncomfortable parts of who we are, and how we successfully let our significant others see those uncomfortable pieces that bring us together. Like salted caramel, the sugary sweetness of a forever honeymooning couple mixes with the salty tang of the Bahamas waters, and all the prejudices that come with it. In leaving their London sanctuary for another (supposedly) heaven on earth, Cal has to come to terms with an estranged mother who found paradise wherever Cal was not, whereas Nat is confronted with a quite literal sense of feeling to be on the wrong side of the island.
Jumping between real-time and past conversations, Meg Wrigglesworth (Cal) and Khanyiso Mtwana (Nat) force each other, in a loving way, to face the hurt – not shying away from calling out unacceptable behaviour. It is a lot; in little over an hour, the audience traverses emotional distress and reconciliation - all with a dreamy sand-in-my-toes tropical atmosphere, thanks to Technical Manager Nancy Strahan's chillwave-like lighting.
Though many of the topics raised came to the surface naturally, and realistically reflected actual situations, some topics obscured others - inadvertently trivialising them. The death of a parent, an estranged parent, an estranged parent with mental health issues, (casual) racism, and ignored racial struggles, are all very hefty topics that shouldn't be thrown around lightly. While it is understandable to focus on Cal's experience of an estranged parent (played by the formidable Camilla Makhmudi), the play misses on delving deeper into her very cruel ending. When another death is mentioned, it is seemingly only to point out some casual racism which sets Nat, rightfully, off. Even though Cal shows signs of upset about her loss, she is apparently not allowed to dwell on it since (casual) racism is a more pressing matter. When death does take centre-stage, it is only in a clichéd form, meaning to say goodbye to all matters in the past and look towards the future. The play does indeed what it promises, though instead of being selfish it appears it is more self-centered.
All journeys, outward and inward, start with the intention of reaching a hopefully better destination. The confrontatational setting of sheeted-up furniture at Compartmentalisation 101's finale is a haunting reminder of the realities of life - and that we should indeed focus on our actions in the future.
Compartmentalisation 101 runs at the Bedlam Theatre until 13 February 2020.