White water rafting, volunteering in communities, safaris and travelling thousands of miles for an eye opening experience before adulthood are all on the list for an ultimate gap year. We all know that a gap year opens your eyes and you ‘find yourself,’ but what about the long lasting affects that time well spent can have upon somebody?
Well, in this one man show ‘Educating Ronnie’, writer, performer Joe Douglas tells the true story of the unusual aftermath from his gap year that has lasted a decade. Spending six weeks visiting his expat aunt in Uganda and having struck up a friendship with a Ugandan teenager, Ronnie, Joe takes on the role of his mate’s unlikely sponsor. Nevertheless, with charity must come commitment and so funding Ronnie through an education which, becomes increasingly costly, the expectations prove burdensome.
From the outset, what may seem a play purely based on the relationship between two boys from different cultures, the decisions that Joe has to make in fact explores his own relationship with himself.
From the outset, Joe makes it clear to the audience that he is not an actor; he is in fact a professional director. What sets this extraordinary play apart is that this true story was written and experienced by Joe himself. Small touches make this play more personable; for example the reserved seat left for his aunt in Uganda as she is still yet to see the play, adds to the truthful charm of his autobiographical monologue.
The simplistic moments where a voiceover of Ronnie reads aloud the messages that were sent between the two of them, or when Joe’s train of thought dig deeper into his story, are perhaps the moments that the play reaches its peak, putting spotlight on the reality of Joe’s experience. Although certain moments of dramatic pause, or focus on the background music seemed slightly unnecessary, taking away the raw nature of the dialogue, the minimalistic approach in both the set and dialogue works wonders. The essence of this play is the story itself, so when Joe is recalling his account, with the intimacy of a studio theatre, an inclusive dimension brings to light the inner conflict Joe experienced.
Performed with charm, integrity and one hundred percent commitment, Joe’s deliverance excelled my expectations. Not once during the performance did I question whether it was obvious he was a professional actor or not; (even when he brought to light that the last time he acted was in a school production of Oklahoma) it has been a long time that I have witnessed such raw emotion in a play. Joe was capable at capturing the audience’s attention at the climatic points and yet still ensuring his charisma gains the audience’s heart. Despite it being a play more than two years old, this 2012 Fringe First winner still carries the bundle of emotions and thought provoking matters as though it is a story being told for the first time.