Thursday, October 09, 2014

Drama from Salisbury to Bath, via Uganda (and Frome)

Salisbury's version of Boston Tea Party coffee house is an amazing Grade-1 listed building dating back to the early 1300s and it was here in an upstairs room that Crossed Wires gave its premier performance for the Salisbury Fringe last weekend. An audience of more than sixty crammed between the medieval pillars to watch our twin tales of difficult relationships eventually resolved, and donated generously on their way out (thanks, guys!) After a quick celebratory glass in the astro-turfed garden of the delightful Kings Head (15th Century) Rosie and I scooted on to Castle Street Social Club to listen to the script-in-hand readings from Juno Theatre: five 'short plays inspired by famous women' ~ listening rather than watching, as the actresses were largely invisible from the back seats. Outstanding in this quintet was Glad Tidings by Lesley Bates, an encounter between a feminist angel and reluctant recipient of the annunciation ("If He wants to talk surrogacy, it'll cost..." "He doesn't DO money!" "Well then I don't DO pregnancy.") ~ enjoyably entertaining but also making subtle points about women's roles and male expectations. I also liked Martine Shackerley-Bennet's short witty piece Heady Days, a kind of dark Alice-in-Wonderland beheaded-foe croquet game between Queens Elizabeth and Mary.

In 2002 Joe Douglas, aged 18, went to Uganda for his gap year and began a relationship that cost him £20,000, much angst and many growing pains, and resulted in a show called Educating Ronnie which won an Edinburgh Fringe First award and came to Merlin Frome on Wednesday. Joe tells his own story direct to audience in disarmingly frank style: he's 30 now but it's difficult to gauge to what extent he's acquired a full grasp of the wider perspective in this not-unfamiliar tale of an emotional response to economic gulf.  Ronnie's emails appealing for a chance to thrive, or simply survive, veer from heart-rending to manipulative, and Joe's story is at its most affective & theatrically effective when he loses confidence in himself as selfless sponsor and feels the pain of anyone in a collusive, emotionally abusive, relationship.  There's a happy ending of sorts ~ Joe is back on even keel with Ronnie ~ but it's up to you whether you leave the theatre feeling he was a hero or a mug, or both, or maybe just angry shame at the massive inequality that defined the friendship between these two young men in such inevitably unequal terms. Michael John McCarthy's excellent sound design enhanced this macrobert production.
The Memory of Water is such a stunning script it would be impossible not to enjoy a production of this tragi-comedy by Shelagh Stephenson about three sisters re-meeting for their mother's funeral. Acerbic and succinct, the dialogue veers from laugh-out-loud to pin-drop poignant, and Bath Drama relished the opportunity to bring this superb piece to the Rondo. As the sisters bicker about their reminiscences, their memories dissolve and erode their chosen adult personas: the high-flyer faces hidden pain, the romancer hits realism, and the practical one downs a bottle of whisky and lets fly her lethal resentments. Memory, its power and its unreliability, is the theme that beautifully and thought-provokingly links these women to each other and to us: Can you feel nostalgia for something that never existed? Mary asks, and wonders if it's true that water can retain a memory of substances long after there's no discernible trace of them ~ the theory of homeopathy, her elder sister Teresa's business, which is also affected irrevocably by the deluge of events in this tumultuous night.  Congratulations to the whole team, especially Mike (Nic Proud) and Mary, played superbly Alexia Jones at short notice.  On till Saturday 11th.  

No comments: