Nevertheless Productions returned in style Upstairs at the Lamb following our sell-out debut in Frome Festival in July. In a collaborative venture with Salisbury's Bootleg Theatre Company, SNAPSHOTS was a set of short dialogues. Four highly personable actors delighted the first night audience with these bite-size dramas from contemporary relationships and modern mores. Perhaps I'm partisan but for me the most successful in theatrical terms was Back to Back by Nevertheless founder Rosie Finnegan which uses dark absurdist humour to create biting political satire. Great to hear people enthusing "That was marvellous” - “Really good – really enjoyed it, really good actors”, and responses on feedback forms ranging from 'Very entertaining' to 'Fantasticle!' and 'Brrrrilliant'! Here's Stewart Taylor and Kerry Stockwell, under draconian future legislation rueing the day they failed to report a grey squirrel... "The homely aesthetic of the venue lent itself kindly to the plays" reported Bootleg's Salisbury reviewer, commending Rosie's "surreal political dialogue".
Meanwhile over in Bristol's Alma Tavern there's nothing homely about Venus at Broadmoor, the fourth, and arguably the best, of Steve Hennessy’s plays lifting the lid off psychiatric care in the Lullabies of Broadmoor quartet.
The cure for insanity is love, pronounces Doctor Orange – an enlightened stance for a Medical Superintendent in 1872 – but he’s baffled by the perverse version of love practised by Christina Edmunds, who calls herself Venus and distributes poisoned chocolates around Brighton randomly and remorselessly. Asylum attendant John Coleman, obsessed with this enigmatic beauty, asks a more pertinent question: what’s the cure for love? Neither man recognises there is no cure for the secret childhood abuse which has left Christina unable to grasp the horror with which infant death is greeted by those around her, or appreciate her culpability.
Dark material, but vividly written with luminous imagery and emotional fireworks from pathos to hilarity, creating authentic evocation of Victorian mores as well as probing deeply into this true-life tragedy. Here are no real villains, though all the men are flawed by selfishness, vanity, obtuseness, and just plain weakness. Christina, the mad murderess, is paradoxically guilty only of living in a society where sexual initiative in a woman is a shockingly ‘lewd act’ while for a man it’s a pardonable lapse. But the tragedy at the heart of the story is that a little boy died: the play is heavily dedicated to that child – indeed the weight of that small ghost, especially at the end, is my only reservation about a superbly written play.
Rebecca Sellors' set wittily creates a mood of seaside vaudeville and the actors are onstage from the start – the doctor restless at his desk, Coleman brooding, Christina dancing delicately in her lace-trimmed underwear – so that even as you take your seat you sense that when the penny rolls to start this end-of-pier show, it will be something special. And it is. Sensitive and cleverly-paced direction from Chris Loveless, superb acting by the men - Alan Coveney and Matthew Ward – and a superlative performance from Violet Ryder as the Chocolate Cream Poisoner... no wonder audiences loved it, with sell-out shows every night and feedback any writer would give several fingers, if not an arm, for. So much to enjoy and to reflect on in this complex play and polished production, I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to go back and watch it again.