There is little realism to the style in which Natasha Marshall has chosen to present her one-woman show, and yet Half Breed is a piece that feels distinctively, darkly real. Marshall’s script—which tells the story of Jazmin, a “mixed race kid, like 50/50”, growing up in the West Country—is as lyrical as it is fragmented, with lightly rhyming exposition in between a multitude of voices from the village. Her performance, too, is energetic, exaggerated – but the racism to which Jazmin is subjected feels entirely accurate, and sadly familiar.
What distinguishes Half Breed as a piece of theatre is that Marshall, even as she speaks about hopelessly recurrent questions like “where are you from originally”, is unafraid to introduce some real moral ambiguity into the narrative. The characters here are complex, and difficult – including Jazmin herself, and her best friend Brogan. Brogan asks if Jazmin is “half caste” the first time they meet, stands by as her boyfriend tells racist stories and gets pregnant without telling him – but she is also fiercely loyal and loving. It’s Brogan who bullies Jazmin into properly practicing her monologue for a drama audition in London.
Semi-autobiographical, Half Breed began life as a poem at spoken word nights – and Marshall has managed the transition to fully-fledged play well. The show is cleverly structured, with echoes between Jazmin’s more uncomfortable choices and other people’s that add both layers and humanity to the piece – before the tension, and Jazmin’s acquiescence, snaps in a final climactic scene. This ultimate fearlessness is reflected in how Marshall dives headlong into her performance, and into living out Jazmin’s dream.