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Review: Jewel & Olivera at Social Refuge ‘showcases captivating journeys of transformation’

Jewel & Olivera at Social Refuge are two powerful performances exploring the depths of identity and self-discovery
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Jewel and Olivera

Jewel follows Zahra as she contemplates the complexity of her intersecting identities as a biracial Muslim, who is maybe, also a bit gay.

This identity crisis begins as Zahra struggles to fit the whole of their identity into the single-choice boxes required for a university application.

What do you do if you’re both White British and Pakistani? Which box do you tick? Which side of yourself do you stay true to?

Jewel at Social Refuge

These questions spur Zahra on as she begins to examine herself and the life they want for the first time.

Despite the personal subject matter, Zahra is very comfortable on stage, using every inch of space, confidently and joyfully.

Their passion for Jewel makes it feel all the more sincere and that is the show’s greatest strength.

Zahra is a very likeable and charismatic performer who immediately captures the audience’s attention.

They have a distinct comedic voice that shines through the whole show and adds authenticity.

The use of music in Jewel further fleshes out the world that Zahra creates on stage.

It is well-paced within the show and serves to represent different stages of Zahra’s self-acceptance.

One of the most gentle and affecting moments of Jewel is a gorgeous modern dance choreographed by Shamoya Lynch to She by Dodie- a song that will be intimately familiar to people who came of age during the golden age of British YouTubers in the late 2010s.

Jewel is a lovely, tender look at how it feels to get to know the parts of yourself you have long ignored.

It is a powerful piece that will be very special for those who can relate.

Jewel is an Igloof Haus production at Social Refuge shown as part of a double bill with Olivera, for the Manchester Fringe Festival. Learn more here:

Olivera at Social Refuge

Equal parts beautiful and painful, Olivera follows young transgender girl Olivia (Jacklyn Jeffries) as she comes of age in Charleston, North Carolina.

The only child of a deeply religious, internet-famous Televangelist father (John Smeathers) Olivia struggles to reckon her burgeoning identity against the inbuilt feelings of shame her upbringing has instilled within.

Contenting herself with venting to God and secretly trying on stolen women’s clothes is no longer enough as she grows older, and it becomes harder to fit into the role she is expected to play.

With the help of her new stepmother (Suzanne Fulton) and the refuge of the public library, Olivia slowly carves out a life for herself.

Jacklyn Jeffries gives a phenomenal performance as Olivia.

From her very first scene, you get a clear vision of who she is and who she is desperate to become.

As the play progresses, Jeffries effortlessly conveys ages 13-20 without ever feeling like a caricature.

She is heartbreaking and hilarious all at once, effortlessly moving through emotions

One of the most gorgeous aspects of Olivera is the relationship between Olivia and her stepmother.

John Smeathers at Dad

John Smeathers is suitably terrifying in his role as a dad. He manages to be both threatening and pitiable depending on the scene.

His performance feels extremely true to life and very believable, often eliciting gasps from the audience.

John Mclelland plays Boy, Olivia’s love interest.

They spend hours together in the public library, sharing and discussing books from The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Lolita.

He is funny and charming and has great chemistry with Jacklyn Jeffries.

Every aspect of Olivera makes it clear that this story has been handled with love and care from its very conception.

Every character is fully formed and complex, with all aspects of their characters given the proper time and attention to really flesh them out.

Within minutes of each character being on stage, you learn so much about them and over the course of the play, the writing tends to them carefully so that by the end, the story is a rich tapestry with each character and arc delicately woven together.

An extremely immersive experience

From the very first scene, Olivera is extremely immersive. The audience is immediately sucked into Olivia’s life because the writing is so evocative. Her world feels fully furnished and developed even though her life can be stiflingly small.

The show’s soundtrack of country anthems from Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton helps to add further texture to the world created on stage and really builds the atmosphere.

Despite being around an hour long, Olivera manages to keep the pace perfectly.

It never drags and each scene feels like it’s given exactly the right amount of time needed to best serve the story.

Olivera does a beautiful job creating gentle moments within the harshness of the story.

This doesn’t soften the edges but rather highlights the severity of Olivia’s environment. The small points of refuge Olivia manages to steal for herself are so heartbreakingly tender because they manage to convey that she exists on scraps of happiness but that they are truly lifesaving, no matter how small.

Olivera is a witty and tender look at the realities of being a trans person in Southern America. It explores the hypocrisies inherent to any religion based on hate and examines the true cost of conformity.

Olivera was written by Jacklyn Jeffries, directed by Kristine Holmen and produced by Sam Vivian.

The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

It is an Igloof Haus production and was at Social Refuge as part of a double bill with Jewel for the Manchester Fringe Festival.

You can learn more by clicking here

You can find out more about what’s happening at the Greater Manchester Fringe by clicking here

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