Caterpillar, Alison Carr @ Theatre503

29 August – 22 September 2018

Writer: Alison Carr
Director: Yasmeen Arden
Producer: Michelle Barnette
Design: Holly Pigott
Lighting: Ben Jacobs
Sound: Jac Cooper
Cast: Judith Amsenga as Claire, Alan Mahon as Simon and Tricia Kelly as Maeve

Caterpillar promotional image Theatre503 September 2018.jpg

Small Truth Theatre premieres Alison Carr’s Caterpillar at Theatre503, a finalist of their 2016 Playwriting Award, with a continued run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Caterpillar takes place at a closed seaside B&B run by grandmother Maevis who is recovering from a recent stroke that’s paralysed the left side of her body. Her daughter Claire has been living in to help look after her and seems unwilling to leave to return to her own life as a mother. Unexpectedly, guest Simon arrives late one night, to participate in a Red Bull style hang-gliding event taking over the town, the last request of his now dead girlfriend.

Set in Maeve’s living room, Holly Pigott’s naturalistic design is characterised by welcoming, coastal themed décor, all seemingly sourced from the local seaside gift shop, giving it a cosy but identifiably curated feel.

Alison Carr has an ear for natural dialogue and a knack for embedding comedy in her characters’ voices, offering up engaging, complex portraits of humanity. Yasmeen Arden’s quietly confident direction lets the charm and warmth of the text shine.

The production is a slow-burn, taking its time to introduce us to the world and unfurl the secrets at the heart of its characters. However, some of the darker reveals and decisions later in the piece feel unseeded in earlier action, especially stacked as they were in the second act.

The actors gave striking, well-drawn performances; credible and nuanced. Tricia Kelly as Maeve is a commanding combination of saucy humour and iron pragmatism, a vitality offset by the vulnerability of the character’s age and health issues. Alan Mahon disarms with a warm (later creepy) earnestness and Judith Amsenga assuredly balances tenderness, aggression and a biting wit.

Alison Carr’s writing finds fresh vision in familiar themes. I found the mother-daughter dynamic to be the strength of the piece: a mixture of loyalty, kind-cruelty, blindness and unmet expectations, and wish there had been greater attention given to this relationship as the linchpin of the play’s concerns, which sometimes felt unfocused. Caterpillar has interesting things to say about performative caring and reflects on constrictive roles both in and out of family structures.

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Tickets @ Theatre503

Additional performances:
27 – 29 September 2018                 Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Reared, Bold & Saucy @ Theatre503

4 – 28 April, 2018
by John Fitzpatrick
Directed by Sarah Davey-Hull

Bold & Saucy Theatre Company

Reared Production PhotosTheatre 503

Photography courtesy of The Other Richard

BAFTA nominated writer John Fitzpatrick has delivered a moving and marvellously engaging fly-on-the-wall family drama. It’s a character-driven piece full of surprises, dark comedy and heartfelt moments held together by a terrifically talented cast as three generations of women clash and struggle in a too-small house.

Shelley Atkinson is pitch-perfect in the role of strained wife Eileen, vainly trying to keep her household from falling apart as tensions mount. Paddy Glynn is wonderful as Nora, the acerbic and increasingly senile mother-in-law whose performance pendulums from hilarious to heart-breaking. Danielle Phillips’ rebellious teenage Caitlin too is a joy to watch, unexpectedly delivering my favourite rendition of a Lady Macbeth speech that I’ve ever seen, along with bitter sarcasm and vulnerable moments of confession as she tries to find her way. Adding to the chaos and comedy are Daniel Crossley as the avoidant and ineffectual father, and Rohan Nedd who is side-splitting as a clueless teenage love interest. They are all an absolute pleasure to watch.

In addition, Sammy Dowson has designed a set that feels like it’s been moved wholesale from someone’s actual house. It’s incredibly detailed, reeling you in from the moment you enter the space. A half empty bottle of washing-up liquid and drying dishes sit by the sink, empty wine bottles stand by the recycling bin, childhood memorabilia hang from the walls, and innumerable other pieces of family detritus clutter every available surface.

The play leaves some unanswered questions, but I was glued to my seat from beginning to end. With dynamic direction and intelligent writing, this is not a show to be easily missed.

 

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Her Not Him, Lughnacy Productions @ Theatre503

30th January – 3rd February, 2018

Written by Joanne Fitzgerald
Directed by Amy Lawrence

Her Not Him Extras - Ali Wright-42

Photography by Ali Wright

 

‘My preference is for non-arseholes, but they are quite hard to find’

Jemima’s answer to Bea when asked about her sexuality and what made me frantically scribble it away and press into my memory as something that makes this show entirely stand out.

It’s not often, in my experience, to see a show based on LBTQ relationships where sexuality became something that did not signify the characters but just was. It existed. People loved and lost each other.

I feel like I want to pin that quote on a badge on my coat at all times.

I’m going to directly quote the summary from Theatre503’s website as I feel my words won’t eloquently put across the plot of the play or give too much away.

Bea, an older woman, comes out late in life. She nabs herself a young lover, Ellie, who has aspirations of starting a family and putting them both on a path to domestic bliss. Then Bea meets Jemima, who catches her eye and steals her away from Ellie. It all falls apart when Bea finally meets James, the boy beneath Jemima’s make-up, wigs and glamour, who doesn’t excite her quite as much.

What I really loved about this production was the embracing of simplicity.

The design was simple yet stunning; two moving distressed (in a fashionable way) metal walls on wheels and two chairs and a table.

These were choreographed into a seamless movement and dance inspired transition between each scene. They made a beauty of scene changes by not ignoring it but embracing it and it added a physical story and enhancement of the plot without adding extra clunky exposition dialogue. We understood the changes of character and their relationships further from this beautiful movement.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable production. A very grounded, mature and feline like Bea (Orla Sanders) who struggles to open up to those close to her starts the play with Ellie (Leah Kirby), who is a rather in your face, energetic extrovert next to Bea’s calm, still nature. Opposites attract or from what I saw last night; ultimately repel.

 

This is all chucked up in the air when Bea meet’s Jemima (John James), a gorgeous, outspoken transvestite. From the moment, Jemima walked on stage, she brought on a different youthful, truthful energy, that made me drawn to watching her and her interactions with Bea.

Another exquisite moment from Jemima, was the unveiling and undressing of her by Bea, which I thought was utterly sublime. She became so childlike, innocent and tender. It really showed the intimacy and shyness of that first sexual encounter with a new partner.

I feel slightly mean for coming so early in the run as I felt that the actors and their intimacy and connection between each other took the first two scenes to warm up and I would be interested to see if this alters later in the run.

Bea’s fight to open up to those around her was the arc that ran through this piece and ultimately ended it.

For my taste, I had an issue with the ending of this play. It all wrapped up rather neatly and sweetly with no grudges held and I guess the thing I would take from that is that friendship and genuine human connection is more important than sexual or romantic relationships in the end. But I would be intrigued to see, how this could have ended differently or possibly more honestly.

What I most enjoyed about this play and what I would take from it, is that it showed the awkwardness, genuineness, closing and opening and beauty of dating irregardless of gender and sexuality. A play that made you laugh but also made you reflect on your own relationships and interactions.

The next time someone questions you about your sexuality or preferences, just answer;

 

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The Dark Room, Paperbark Theatre @ Theatre503

8 November – 2 December 2017

by Angela Betzien
Directed by Audrey Sheffield
Paperbark Theatre / Thinking Aloud / Theatre503
(c) Alex Brenner

Photography by Alex Brenner (info@alexbrenner.co.uk)

Set in a depressing motel in the remote Northern Territory, The Dark Room follows six characters haunted by the same brutal crime. Their shattered community is riddled with abuse, police brutality and tragedy, and each character grapples desperately for some sense of salvation.

Angela Betzien’s play is shocking, often charming and incredibly raw. As an audience we’re jammed into the pressure cooker with them. It’s enthralling, powerful, and not always an easy watch.

Australian plays often feel that way to me. I lived in Sydney for 14 years, and this production is true to the best Aussie dramas I grew up with. And like most Aussie writing, it always gives me the impression that it’s been flayed and left in the sun for a few weeks. The stories and narratives overlap, and the timeline is distorted. With elements of a horror/thriller thrown in for good measure, we as an audience are left to puzzle out the twisted events of the play as events unfold.

The acting is superb. As a cast they are unbelievably strong, each bringing a powerful stage presence and truthful performances. Besides, there’s one native Australian among them and you’ll be hard pressed to guess who it is. The Australian accent is not an easy one (trust me), but they nail it.

Annabel Smith (Grace – pictured above in the mask) is terrifying and intense. It’s an affecting in-your-face performance that distils the rot at the core of the play into the shape of an abused teenager.

Her relationship with Anni (Katy Brittain) is the backbone of the piece from the start. As the two tussle they bring out each other’s vulnerabilities in a way which is magnetic and emotive.

Brittain provides a masterclass of acting. It’ s a stunningly sensitive and tender performance as a woman desperate to do right against all the odds and faced with the impossible. She is heart-breaking to watch.

Tamlyn Henderson’s charismatic performance as the weary cop Stephen brings much of the plays charm. His performance swaggers easily between the uproariously comical and deeply dramatic in his struggles with his heavily-pregnant and dissatisfied wife, Emma (Fiona Skinner). Skinner’s grounded and relatable performance gives a great strength to their dynamic. It’s a pleasure to watch.

Rounding off the talented cast is the calm, sinister alpha-male Craig (Alasdair Craig), and the disturbed and victimised Joseph (Paul Adeyefa). They provide high-octane performances that do justice to the play’s themes of abuse and brutally.

Audrey Sheffield’s directing gives life to the piece. Using the design, space, and bodies of her actors to build on the feeling of claustrophobia, while giving the plays humour and charm enough room to breathe.

This play is like sitting *just* too close to a fire. Your skin prickles, it’s a little uncomfortable, and it’s impossible to look away.

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This production was made in partnership with NSPCC, UK’s leading children’s charity. For more information about the organisation and to support a good cause, click here.