Review: “Turn Poison Into Medicine” - Alchemy at Southbank Centre

Shane Solanki – aka Last Mango in Paris – previewed his latest work in progress “Turn Poison Into Medicine” as part of Southbank’s Alchemy Festival last weekend – and alchemical is the perfect description of what he achieved.

His narrative traces the journey of Luna – a British-Muslim teenager rebelling against her wealthy father’s detachment from the world around him, armed with a hijab, veganism and the internet. Running away after a fight one day, she stumbles into a wood and crosses an ocean to a place where time and space dissolve. There, as she learns to stop hating herself, the blossoming of her love for David Eagleton – an interspecies transgender alien – is juxtaposed with the trials and tribulations of everyday life beyond the dreamscape. A combination of fairy tale (girl runs into the woods and falls in love…) and fantasy (…with an inter-species transgender alien), “Turn Poison Into Medicine” is certainly original.

GIFs and fragmented viral videos drawn from an incredibly broad cultural register played on a screen while bass, piano, some breathtaking beatboxing and mesmerising vocals accompanied Solanki’s spoken word. The clips on screen ranged from Jimmy Fallon to Debasmita Bhattacharya, from TED talks to iconic Bollywood images reworked with boom boxes and comic speech bubbles. While there was too much to appreciate in its entirety, the periodic flashes of recognition made for a truly personal experience in which each audience member could connect with the show according to their own unique experiences of the rabbit-hole that is internet culture.

While the piece does get off to a slow start, it is worth witnessing the build-up from the trivial to the truly profound to experience Solanki at the height of his talent. At this stage, there is no hint of comic dissonance in witnessing a middle-aged man voicing a teenage girl – we’re completely invested in the character whose voice shakes, whose breath catches, whose eyes water… through Solanki. As a work in progress, “Turn Poison Into Medicine” is understandably rough around the edges, but there is every chance that the next stages of its development will see the creases ironed out for an even more compelling show.