This exquisite new drama by Colette Kane pulls off several clever tricks at once.
At one level it’s a conventional, almost old-fashioned, well-made play … employing five fine, female, cross-generational actors in roles that are instantly recognisable; all responding individually to a familiar human condition but without the merest hint of cliché. It has just one setting; designer Polly Sullivan’s beautifully recreated, semi-derelict, stone chapel; high up on a Welsh moor swept by an ever-present Welsh wind.
So far, so cosy. But the writing takes matters to another level. For there is a sharp streak of east European absurdist theatre about the relationships we witness. The razor-like jokes arrive out of the blue and are so economical the one-liners are often no more than half a line.
Scarlett is a tall, glamourous city girl in tight trousers who’s just turned 40 and is running away from the rat race. She’s “fed up with making a living and wants to live”. And who can blame her? Who hasn’t shared her yearning to cut free and live the good life? Shropshire is stuffed with part-time hippies who headed for Wales in the 60s and didn’t quite make it.
The local estate agents called “Heaven on Earth” (another excellent joke – once you’ve seen the set) have sent her off with the details of a dilapidated dream hovel. The problem is the local woman who’s put it on the market has an emotional reason for not selling, especially to some bright blond from London. So we can expect plenty of ‘them and us’ humour … but always with an impeccably ill-timed clever twist.
Elegant Kate Ashfield (as Scarlett, pictured) and indomitable Lynn Hunter (as Eira, the owner) make fine sparring partners and Kane gives them sufficiently piercing language to do a fine job. In particular, she’s come up with a wonderful word to describe the worst thing about living in London; “the glare”. Londoners are like rabbits caught in car headlights; blinded into submission.
Scarlett isn’t. But her monstrous mother and petulant daughter certainly are. And it’s how their eyes are opened in Wales that gives this play such heart and soul.
Joanna Bacon is great fun as the prying, pompous matriarch and Bethan Cullinane takes stroppy, 20-something Lydia on a refreshing journey from being acutely embarrassed that her mum is ‘not normal’ to the wool-raising realisation that she might just have a point.
And I particularly liked Gaby French’s portrayal of the 14-year-old local girl (who is probably the most collected of the lot of them) who sees Scarlett’s vision and brings a friendly bowl of homemade soup across the fields so “you’ve got ‘round here’ inside you, now”.
What is particularly satisfying about this play is the premise that if you don’t like your life and decide to do something about it you can, eventually, take everyone in it with you; metaphorically at least. It raises the spirits and a small tear of triumph. It might even send you to the estate agents.
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