When I saw ‘if mouth could speak’ I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It is beyond excellent. Its script is ‘performance poetry’: poetry written for a performance in front of an audience. It looks at the mind of a young immigrant in Peckham, London, who is troubled by suicidal feelings and environmental factors that make his wellbeing precarious. With the aid of outstanding acting and dynamic tech, ‘if mouth could speak’ is a manifestation of what emotions really feel like behind the modern world’s veneer of dissociation.
Timotei Cobeanu is stunning as the protagonist. His delivery flows flawlessly through the script’s fast atmosphere changes. He moulds the tone and pitch of his voice to the constant, eclectic soundscape. Cobeanu is a courageous performer, and so he has no actor’s tics or habits that show removal or self-awareness. His character seems comprehensively real. He starts with a swaying body, turning in different directions in a dizzying, confusing haze of turmoil. He shouts at people on the street. This is smart, forcing the audience to sit with a character they might normally dismiss as horrible. The script needs a bit of work on the beginning to weed out parts that aren’t as authentic, but overall the play gets off to a cracking start.
He softens, exploring how necessary rage is a component of different emotions but is often misunderstood. He talks about insomnia. He imagines London as a woman, and he wants to have sex with her. He lies down by a bridge in London in the night with a woman who’s covered his face in lipstick kisses when she asks, ‘so, what’s your story?’ He tells her he moved to London when he was 12 and when he said goodbye to his mother in the station, she cried so much he felt tears dropping onto his shoulders. The words are fruity, sorrowful, delicious, and painful. It is never quite clear if the woman is real. This play is a rare assertion of everyone’s right to feel and have their feelings heard in a London that fosters isolation and numbness – and is especially removed from immigrants’ experiences.
Michael Crean’s incredible soundscape reveals the huge breadth of atmospheres that exist in a small area in London. Simultaneously, the lighting portrays the different styles of architecture around Cobeanu’s character. These interact with the script to show the visceral ways environments impact people. Electronica music is combined with Cobeanu’s ‘beat poetry’-fast, disorientating and exciting-to produce a cold, nervous energy. The electronica is sharp and unyielding. Then, the music slows, and the lighting shifts to cool, soothing tones. Cobeanu’s poetry turns melodic as he talks about love. He imagines a woman calling out to him from a bridge. In a while, there is the sound of a low city roar and occasional cars driving past. The lighting is dim and it is night. Beauty is mingled with anxiety. Crucially, we can never predict what each feeling will lead to next. Good experiences break Cobeanu’s character when they end, pushing him to the brink. London is portrayed as a confusing, unpredictable world.
‘if mouth could speak’ has tipped me into an emotional awakening, and I’m starting to recognise how little I know about the experiences of immigrants in this modern United Kingdom.
I also noticed how Timotei Cobeanu might win an Olivier award in the future.