Thursday, February 4, 2021

RIBENA (Press Play Here/Theatre Royal Stratford East)****


By Aashiq


Link with captions:

Link with audio description:

Available until: Unknown

Age guidance: 12+

I can’t even remember the last time I had a Ribena. That’s bad. Of course, you can’t just wander into a shop like you used to. It all has to be carefully calculated. I mean, there’s usually drinks at home. Even if it’s not Ribena class. Do you risk the coronavirus for the Ribena? Or let the Ribena go and protect each other and the NHS? Put it like that and you can see how some people are living without Ribena.

But still, no Ribena for a year? No wonder people are saying I’m moody. I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.

And what is this Vimto? I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never drunk it. I’m getting the impression I don’t want to. Maybe it’s one of those rites of passage I really don’t want to do like proving my manliness by eating an oxo cube. Get lost, I’m not doing that. Who says I have to be manly anyway? My husband takes care of that. I wear the tiara. (Don’t take that too seriously. I know there’s no such thing as a boy-role and a girl-role, even in straight relationships. But we need to get back to the Ribena.)

It’s all about Ribena. What it does. How it tastes. The many ways to drink it. The best way to package it. There are other important issues in this play and they are mentioned. But sometimes you just need a Ribena. It’s like self-care and nutrition all in one and these things are important. It also has medical properties which I was completely unaware of, but I don’t know if it’s true. Some people will claim anything as long as it enables them to drink what they want to drink. I bet you anything people are making very similar claims every day at Gin o’clock.

You can almost taste the Ribena as it’s described by writer and performer Daniel Ward. Imagine if it’s your actual job to drink Ribena. (I wonder if I could get a job eating chocolate. No, I’d need a second job advertising treadmills and that’s no fun.) But Ribena… such a gorgeous colour. And anyone who doesn’t like the taste… have you even tasted all the Ribenas? A few are mentioned here, but not all of them. Many are gone and forgotten… or if not forgotten, so long ago that nobody wants to admit they remember them in case people start doing maths to work out their age. (Horrible habit. Why anyone would want to do maths in the middle of a conversation is beyond me.)

Eva Sampson’s direction is unhurried, giving the story time and space to be sensual. It’s at a pitch where it could be enjoyed on a humorous level if you don’t get the whole Ribena love– it doesn’t take itself too seriously – but it also doesn’t go in the other direction into absurdity.

Ribena is educational too. I always thought drinking from the cartoon without a straw is like an emergency measure for when you accidentally buy the one without a straw again. But it’s all part of the art. (But I have to be jealous of the way Daniel can just tear open a carton. I would need about fifty takes. And someone to start it off for me. And maybe a stunt double. Great skills, Daniel.)

The play doesn’t get straight into the Ribena. It tells us something about 2020 first and Daniel’s writing is stunning. It sums up the complete and utter crappiness in a few well-chosen words. Then comes the Ribena. The writing is incredibly evocative and very accurate. It’s sensual. It turns you into Pavlov’s dog. It makes you ask yourself important questions, like whether it’s acceptable to send your husband on a Ribena run at 6pm in a pandemic. Or whether my immune system is really as bad as all that and maybe I could go. (And some actual proper important questions too.) It also reminds us to enjoy what some people might see as the little things because they can give us pleasure and we need as much of that as we can get.

You really really really don’t like Ribena? Good. More for me and Daniel.

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