For my second one-man show of the day I headed to The Space at North Bridge to see Strip Search which was written last year by Peter Scott-Presland for the Homos Promos production company.
Daniel Onadeko plays an ex-squaddie who takes us through his life as a youth turning tricks for money, joining the army and then getting into stripping. Cleverly (and intringingly for certain members of the audience) at each climactic point (pun intended) of the piece he would remove a further item of clothing.
I was expecting a play about a stripping ex-squaddie with nudity and gay overtones but this was a highly layered (pun unintended) piece of drama. It is a detailed and true examination of someone gradually dealing with emotions that they had buried within themselves.
The writer, director and producer (amazingly all one person) allowed Daniel to understand his own nature after the audience had worked it out, which is a brave and difficult feat to achieve.
Having praised the writing I must strongly recommend Daniel Onadeko's performance. No one-man show is easy but he exposes more than just raw emotion. In an hour of surprises (all pleasant) one of the biggest was hearing a lot of references to Caroline Street and The Kings Cross.
As someone from Cardiff these were places I wasn't expecting to be mentioned here, but even without any Welsh connections this is still worth a visit.
DarkChat (10 August 2011)
It’s just not fair that one guy (Damola Onadeko) should have such looks, such a body, and be such a brilliant actor.
This is a very sharply written show, and Peter Scott-Presland’s script keeps you fully engaged throughout. The script shows a great depth of awareness about what goes on in gay guys’ heads, and what it sometimes takes to own up to who you really are.
The play is fast, entertaining, witty and involving, and you won’t want to take your eyes off Squaddie for a moment.
This is a complex, intelligent and quite brilliant piece of proper theatre. A definite ‘must see’.
Tony Challis - Scotsgay (8 August 2011)
Peter Scott-Presland needs no such allowances, having been around the gay scene longer than even he can probably remember. His Strip Search, about a male stripper, is certain enlivened by his star, the magnificently sculpted Damola Onadeko.
But the script goes off in too many directions at once, from ill treatment of wounded servicemen to risky gay sex. It ends up not quite being anything, which is a shame for Onadeko, who gives it his best shot and is clearly an actor with real presence.
Robert Dawson Scott- The Times (12 August 2011)
Now I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes seeing a beautiful person performing on stage can lift your overall enjoyment of a show. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that watching a perfectly sculpted piece of flesh strip down to bare all was one of the most embarrassing shows I have ever sat through.
Damolo Onakedo is a stripper and an actor who, along with writer Peter Scott-Presland, has created this voyeuristic piece of theatre. It follows Onakedo’s life through childhood, his years as a teenage prostitute, the time he served in Iraq and his coming to terms with his sexuality.
Between each vignette, Onakedo has a little pout, wink and dance aimed at the audience and teasingly removes another piece of clothing.
Onakedo’s performance is awkward, confusing and very hard to take seriously. While he’s stripping off and playing with the audience he is in his element, but the cliché that strippers are only good for one thing is very much highlighted whilst he stumbles through the dialogue.
To be fair, he is not helped by some clunkers of lines such as “I cried for love.” Whilst performing his most intimate moments it’s hard not to be caught up in the embarrassed giggles coming from the audience at the fact we are watching a semi-naked man describing a horrifically violent incident with the words “his brains looked like cat food.”
Even more disturbing is that Onakedo seems to be quite pleased with his work as a teenage prostitute and gloats about his conquests as if we are supposed to be impressed. Meanwhile his performance as the child version of himself is embarrassingly awful and feels like a weak spoof of Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.
Onakedo is a brave man for this performance overall (he is literally alone and naked on stage for a large majority) and he gives it his all but he has put his trust in the wrong place with this awful show.
Whilst our final image is of Onakedo wiping his bottom with the Union Jack he might consider doing the same with his flyers so people have a better understanding of what to expect from the show.
Stewart MacLaren (18 August 2011)
There is a special kind of intimacy about witnessing a one-man show, especially at a small venue. Your eyes focus on the protagonist. The individual voice comes to light; the idiosyncratic rhythms of speech gain momentum.
Beyond discerning the show’s actual content, you come away feeling like you got to know the person behind the theatrical mask a little better.
For instance, Damola Onadeko made the most positive impression on me, as an actor, dancer and star of Strip Search. Conversely, I found the play unfocused, hollow and kinda naff. Written by Peter Scott-Presland and produced by Homo Promos, it tells the story of Squaddie or, rather, lets its hero narrate his own tale.
As a young boy, he wanted to win back his mum’s affections. As a teenager, he began to sell his body to men. As an adult, he went to prison, then the army, then became a stripper. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Me neither.
I realise that life doesn’t follow a pattern, but fiction must be structured, or at least provide core themes. No melody can survive without a tonic note; no ship can dock without an anchor. The play’s biggest problem is that Squaddie comes nowhere near being a fully-formed character.
His storytelling is full of anecdotal details of no consequence that detract from the narrative instead of enriching it. The scenes where he cries on-stage hold no intensity or affective power, despite Onadeko’s best efforts. Melodrama, sex and violence on their own are not moving or meaningful. It’s not enough to say, “This terrible thing happened,” and expect a reaction.
The audience must have an emotional investment in the material in order to absorb its dramatic peaks. Only good writing can access that level of engagement, and that’s precisely what Strip Search lacks.
Rather coyly, I have overlooked the production’s biggest draw: its protagonist dances and strips his way into full-frontal nudity. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that Scott-Presland is using striptease as a metaphor for self-exposure.
Even for an openly heterosexual man such as myself, Onadeko’s body proved almost hypnotic in its perfection. To grant it artistic merit is another issue.
Soldier almost hits his mark.
One-man shows are extremely difficult to pull off. They can so easily become too worthy, too egocentric, or just too dull. When they work well they can be exhilarating, inspiring. Awesome in the true sense of the word.
With Strip Search, we have something in between the two. We certainly have an exhilarating and energetic performance by Titus Rowe, who engages us from the very beginning as he marches in down the aisle from the back of the theatre dressed in camouflage kit and, in his wonderful South Wales lilt, begins to tell us his story.
The piece see-saws between Rowe's character and, if you will, his character-within-a-character: 'Squaddie' the real ex-soldier, recounting his sexual awakenings as a young teenager, his experiences in the Welsh Guards fighting in Iraq, right up to the present where he has taken up stripping professionally, and 'Squaddie' the soldier-stripper as he performs his routine, stripping down from full camouflage kit to eventually just the Union Jack and then, for the last ten minutes of the play, nothing but his boots.
These back-and-forth changes are quick and when the device works it is extremely effective. Unfortunately, it doesn't always, due largely to a lack of tightness and clarity in the sound and lighting cues.
Rowe is obviously extremely skilled and well-practised in taking off his clothes on stage, and during these sequences he commands the space with confidence, executing the choreography with style and eyeballing the audience as he adopts a series of 'you want me and I know you do' expressions.
It is the delivery of the monologues which is less convincing, and perhaps demands more attention from director Roger Scales. There is very little variation in pace and a lack of any real light and shade. Moments of significant dramatic potential are not fully realised, and the rug is completely pulled from under an ending which should be much more powerful and poignant than it is.
However, this play is more about a man discovering and accepting his sexual identity than it is an Iraq veteran coming to terms with what happened to him during the war and there is much to enjoy here in both the writing and the performing. Some nice one-liners and amusing anecdotes about anonymous MPs and plaster-dust-covered builders in public toilets keep the audience chuckling along in between the spurts of bare flesh and baby oil.
Paul Dunn - Remotegoat (22 April 2010)
As I skate in a few seconds before the performance (after running up and down The Scotsman steps to check the platform for a train back to Glasgow), the box office is just about to sell my ticket.
“It’s a very popular show” they say, as apologies follow on both sides. Sure enough, three of us almost-latecomers end up sitting or standing in the aisle. Strip Search does seem to be one of those word-of-mouth successes that only Edinburgh produces.
A key selling point is that it offers, in the words of the production company Homo Promos, ‘full male nudity, gay sex, strong language and images some may find offensive’. A special treat, of course.
But the trick is that by the time you reach this point, the physical thing seems only a small part of the man, the character, the life story that has been told.
Strip Search is written and directed by Peter Scott-Presland. So on one level it is a scripted monologue. However, the subject matter of a male stripper seems to invite, almost inevitably, dance routines. Although perhaps not from a devised physical theatre tradition, the result is highly muscular, pumping up the audience, using the tricks of the trade.
The person behind the pecs is complex and damaged. From a childhood of abuse as a young black boy in Wales, he becomes addicted to fruit machines in the hope of buying perfume for and affection from his mother.
Before long, realising the ‘power’ it yields, he starts selling sex as a young teenager, remaining philosophical in spite of a few stitches at the university hospital.
Nationality and identity are important themes, as ‘Squaddie’ is also a product of the army. He waves and curses the Union Jack, bitter at the harm wrought on him and a close friend who survived injury in Basra only to have his brains blown out by inner-city thugs.
Damola Onadeko gives an impressive performance. He has the presence, guts and energy needed for this character. Eye contact with the audience is particularly razor sharp, and the movement has conviction. However, the text is a litany of suffering, and its more melodramatic moments were sometimes strained.
Strip Search is nevertheless a hard-hitting piece, a well-deserved success. The narrative has an exaggerated side, piling on the misery, but it is not completely implausible. And it’s hard not to feel angry. As for Squaddie, of course, he just doesn’t actually have sex much these days.
Charlotte Smith - Total Theatre (10 August 2011)
Bravo. I’m now a fan. Thanks for a lovely and surprising evening.
A beautifully written emotional piece of theatre, performed with passion and sincerity.
I just saw Strip Search at the Rosemary Branch and I was so surprised. I wasn’t expecting much other than the nudity but you can really act. It was lovely. You are a great actor.