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Bed 13

Deadpan Bedpan

Bed 13

by Marcia Kelson

Putney Arts Company, Old Sorting Office, Barnes, until 19th July

Review by Vince Francis

My mother was a nurse. She arrived from Ireland during the last war to train and dealt mainly with airmen and some mariners. After we had all grown up a bit (there are six of us), she returned to nursing as a dental nurse in the outpatients department of the local teaching hospital. This wasn’t as mundane as it might sound as she was occasionally involved in supporting the A&E teams’ work with survivors of road traffic accidents, fights and other traumatic events. It wasn’t unusual for her to come home having assisted in stabilising the facial injuries of some poor sot who had come off his motorcycle (and yes, it was usually a he and yes, it was usually a motorcycle) so that the trauma team could focus on other priorities. Also I think it’s fair to say that most of the issues explored in this piece are familiar to me as a result. I offer this information as I think it’s relevant to declare I have a particular interest in Putney Theatre Club’s production of Bed 13.

This is a new piece, written by Marcia Kelson, who also directs. The play has been entered for the Papatango New Writing Prize  and has been long-listed as a result. For those who may be unfamiliar with this prize, it was established in 2009. It was the first and remains one of the few annual playwriting award in the UK to guarantee an emerging playwright a full production on the professional stage. It provides a royalty of 10% of the gross box office and publication by Nick Hern Books, as well as a full commission to support a follow-up play.

Putney Theatre Company (PTC) is normally associated with the Putney Arts Centre, so they are playing away here, and making a pretty good fist of it.

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I’m sure that many of us are familiar with the problems and issues facing the NHS and offer opinions and solutions in the abstract. The advantage of a play, or film, or television programme is that it can set those discussions in the context of real people and the effects on them. This script has great strength in this respect. Marcia Kelson draws on her experience as an NHS researcher to provide characters that are well drawn, believable and developed throughout the play, as are the situations they face.

As we enter the auditorium, we are soothed into our seats by the playing of Samuel Woolf, offering such arch references as The First Cut Is The Deepest and I’m No Superman, which was the theme from the American hospital based comedy drama TV series Scrubs. But it is the theme from our own Casualty that acts as the figurative curtain-raiser and introduces us to Angela, an NHS manager who implores us to make proper use of A&E and not take up time with cuts and bruises or sniffles and coughs. The opening number, The 999 Song, serves to underline this plea and introduce us to a well-drilled ensemble.

Angela, ably presented by Caroline Salter, comes across well as someone who is trying to access and present that breezy efficiency that we all love to hate, but who is actually hanging on to any positivity by her fingernails in the face of conflicting demands that threaten to overwhelm. These demands are, of course the huge call on services by the public, diminishing resource levels and increasing management demands. As a result, Angela becomes an altogether more sympathetic character. Angela also addresses us directly on occasion to provide relevant information.

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We are then introduced in short order to nurses Stacey (Emma Bugg) and Carol (Tamsin Gatewood), together with patients Mr Jackson (David Jones) and Graham (Tim Iredale). Mr Jackson is in the middle stages of dementia and is looking for his wife, who in reality has died some time previously, whilst Graham takes on the role of the ward jester. Both are familiar characters and in the case of Mr Jackson, sadly so. I wondered briefly whether this device of looking for his deceased wife was going to slip into a form of Carry-On standing gag, but it didn’t. It rightly emphasized the pathos of the situation. The character of Graham is interesting in that his storyline points towards a resolution that doesn’t occur. As such, it is more reflective of the random elements of diagnosis and treatment.

Stacey and Carol are a great pairing. The conversations between colleagues provide the opportunity to point up the front-line issues facing nurses and their overriding vocational dedication. The one element that is not referenced, I think, is that of violence towards A&E staff. That aside, the dialogue and interactions and emotional responses all felt natural and realistic. Both sing well, too. Their duet, Nurse Patient Note Song delivers a witty and insightful observation and demonstrates a well-balanced musicality.

Other notable performances include the aforementioned David Jones in a second role as Doctor. Rachelle Grubb as variously Susie, Alison, Sophie or Janice, where each character was distinct and defined and even her appearance and physicality changed to suit. The costume changes must be a nightmare. Also, Craig McAulay playing Clive, the sort of manager one would never get tired of slapping.

The scope of the piece is fairly wide ranging, including the effect of chronic illness on relationships, particularly family relationships. There are two key instances of this; one with Mr Jackson’s daughter, who is rather self-obsessed and materialistic and the other with a mother and her adult daughter, who has a recurrence of a cancer. This last, although it was well acted by Lesly-Ann Jones and Rachelle Grubb, felt a bit laboured in contrast to the pacy coverage shown up to that point. It may possibly benefit from a bit of tightening up in the writing, or the inclusion of a song, such as Alison and Mr Jackson’s duet, Alison’s Song, which occurs later in the piece.

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Overall, I found this to be an engaging, entertaining and interesting exploration of the current state of the NHS. The action moves through comedy, sometimes the black comedy that is the means by which front-line staff deal with these situations, to pathos, to tragedy, in the death of a patient and the reaction of staff to it. The woman directly behind my partner was living through it and, rightly so. I would openly admit to welling up at the death of one of the patients. There is also a treatment of the growing corporate nature of the NHS and the politics within it.

Musically, the numbers felt appropriately crafted into the action and dialogue. The chorus numbers work well and there are some lovely duets, Carol and Stacey as already noted, but also Graham and Doctor in a glorious soft-shoe routine, Doctor-Patient Song, using crutches as walking canes – well, you would, wouldn’t you?   I didn’t come out humming anything from the show, but that could be said of many a show I have enjoyed. Sometimes, the music works intrinsically for the piece. Geoffrey Hewitt’s score fulfils that requirement and that’s perfectly OK.

The choreography suited the space and the cast and that is the sign of a mature and considered approach in my humble opinion. If people look comfortable with what they are doing they come across so much better than if you can see the panic in their eyes. My current exemplar of this approach is Come From Away.

Other stand out points for me were:
The programme. Succinct, informative and comprehensive. Take a house point. But please, please, please include a list of the songs and characters singing them.
The baritone voice of David Jones and the lovely Mezzo/Alto voice of Tamsin Gatewood are both worth a hearing in their own right.
The use of set and lighting. In a small space like the OSO Arts, any crew intervention is noticeable and this production avoided that by blacking out areas not in use and using bed screens to mask upstage changes made by the cast. This keeps the action moving.

If I were able to offer a couple of touches at the elbow, they would be:
To the cast; relax and let the script and characters take you on the journey. The audience will come with you. Having said that, I appreciate this was an opening night and I’m confident that this cast will settle and shine.
To both the cast and tech crew be prepared for the bounce at the bows. This is good and it deserves one.
A minor irritant was that the electric piano had too much bass in it. This may be due to a heavy left hand, or it may perhaps be an EQ issue, but solo and duet voices were sometimes lost, particularly when temporarily facing upstage. It may be that this was not apparent to Samuel Woolf, who is an excellent player, as the amplifier was angled – rightly so – on stage. It just needs someone to listen from the auditorium to check.

Bed 13 refers to the practice of not having a bed number 13 in an A&E department, as it might be considered unlucky. With this crew, I’d risk it. I think I’d be in safe hands.

Niggles aside, I’d thoroughly recommend this production. At eighty minutes, there’s ample time to meet and greet after and that is an added bonus.

Vince Francis
July 2019

Photography by Benjamin Copping

Much Ado About Nothing

Much ado about seeing this play!

Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

Richmond Shakespeare Society, The Fountain Gardens, Twickenham until 20th July

A review by Viola Selby

2019; the 100th anniversary of the first female MP in the House of Commons and so far a year with a lovely sunny summer! What better way to spend it then with a picnic watching Fiona Poole’s exceptional and female focused rendition of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. But how, you may ask, can one celebrate such a political anniversary through such a light-hearted comedy, written in a time where women had little if any political power? Well, Poole has managed to cleverly set her play 100 years ago, during the suffrage movement, with characters dressed in period-perfect attire, creatively crafted by Junis Olmscheid, Miriam King and John Gilbert. Along with the stunning, yet minimalistic set design, realised by Junis Olmscheid, Ron Hudson, Peter Messum and Fiona Poole, this play is both a feast for the eyes as well as the ears! There are also some toe-tapping musical numbers that bring the period even more to life, thanks to the maestra in charge of sound design and composition, Sarah Hill!

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In addition to this, Poole has also chosen a powerful cast, each of whom shows an extraordinary level of performing expertise through their clear understanding of their character. For example, when Leonato’s daughter is shamed in front of everyone at her wedding, having been accused of sleeping around with another man who is not her betrothed, Vaughan Pierce, as Leonato, does not just fly off the handle at his daughter, but instead portrays a man who is a mixture of emotion. He is both shocked at this claim, furious by the shame it has brought his family and also upset due to the effect it has had on the daughter he loves so dearly. PICS MUCH ADO 3As well as this, each thespian delivers the lines with such passion that they will have you sitting on the edge of your seat (or rolling on the grass) with laughter. This comedic element is especially true when Benedick and Beatrice are on stage. Francis Abbott (Benedick) and Dorothy Duffy (Beatrice) make a sublime double act, who one may think are an old bickering married couple, when in fact the pair cannot stand one another yet later end up marrying one another! Whilst Ben Collingwood West and PICS MUCH ADO 5Deborah Tinsdale will have you in stitches as they create an almost Laurel and Hardy – esque portrayal of an officer and his second who manage to catch Conrad and Borachio, played by the craftily cunning Francesca Ellis and Dominic Upton, in their plan to ruin the forthcoming wedding.  It is a plan devised by the evil Princess, yes you read that right – a brilliant change made by Poole to focus the play on the power of the females, Donna Julia. Nicola Doble’s portrayal of Donna Julia is villainously victorious, as she uses both tone and body language to create a socially cunning classist whom no one would expect. Finally, this play would not be the same without Claudio and Hero, one of our main couples involved in both the weddings and “funeral”. Matthew Tyrrell is regal and upstanding in his depiction of the Prince’s favourite, and his chemistry with Heloisse Plumley as Hero passionately breathtaking, even though Plumley manages to create a character that is demure and gentle.

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Altogether the cast and crew have given new life to this play and have made it their own. If you are a Shakespearean fan or completely new to the bard, there is much ado about seeing this play! A magnificent way that celebrates the skill of Shakespeare whilst also paying homage to the wonderful wit of women!

Viola Selby
July 2019

Photography by Simone Best and Sally Turnstill

Lunatic 19’s

Chain Drive: a Deportational Road Trip

Lunatic 19’s

by Tegan McLeod

Gangway at the Finborough Theatre, Earl’s Court, until 3rd August

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Opening a review with “In the present political climate…” is probably unwise at the moment. I’m calculating the amount of readers likely to roll their eyes and move onto less exhausting things, tennis perhaps. But let’s live on the edge!

In the current political climate there is much mileage to be got from, well pretty much everything really, the deportation of undocumented immigrants in the US being just one of many controversial themes around which to weave a drama.  ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) raids are due this weekend in the US which makes Lunatic 19’s timely to say the least.

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This two-hander at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court tells the story of Gracie, an undocumented immigrant, and Alec from ICE who has arrived at her hospital bed to deport her forcibly back to Mexico. Gracie has lived, worked and filed her taxes in Kentucky for twenty years, she’s recovering from a car crash with significant injuries and wearing a head brace. Nonetheless, she is handcuffed and put into a van, to be driven by Alec out of the country.

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What follows, from the road trip narrative point of view, is fairly predictable. These two characters develop and interact in the way you might expect them to. It is almost The African Queen in a Van. Devon Anderson does a lovely job as Alec from ICE. Alec is a character forced by family circumstances to do a job he despises, but with enough self-respect to do it professionally. Every part of this man’s personal struggle is visible, you feel for him and you respect him despite his job.

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Gabriela Garcia arguably had the bigger challenge playing the strong, stroppy, no-push-over Gracie. Strong women shouldn’t have to be endearing, nor should you need to make them endearing for the sake of a drama. That said, playwright Tegan McLeod has in fact written a witty, sarky, funny (and strong) character, and she’s funny from the start, but this I know because the programme contains the script. This is how Gracie has survived, she has entertained, she has made people like her or laugh with her and thereby got what she needed. But either by direction, or by playing, Gracie’s wit took time to show itself. She was loud and she was taking no nonsense, but the fully rounded clever, witty character Gracie is didn’t register for quite a while, which was a shame. Strong women are understandably ‘hot’ at present, but there are many types of strong, ‘loud’ is only one optional element. Once fully established however, Gracie was a warm, inspiring, spiky presence on stage.

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The Finborough Theatre is an ideal space for this intense drama. The clever use of the small stage together with Kevin Treacy’s lighting and Edward Lewis’ sound created both the institutional glare of public buildings and the soothing calm of the sea, transporting the audience with Gracie and Alec along their journey.

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Tegan McLeod’s new play is an interesting journey through a number of themes: the state of play on immigration in the US raises questions about who belongs where, what qualifies them to belong and who decides. Alec himself is an immigrant but he has documents. Alongside this is the question of new beginnings. Gracie has difficulty with pregnancy, she has miscarried more than once but there is perhaps the promise of new life again. The significance of the title I will leave to be discovered by the next set of audience members. This is a smart play, efficiently performed and providing food for thought for a 21st century audience.

Eleanor Lewis
July 2019

Photography by Marian Medic

Delivery

Regimented

Delivery

by Andy Walker

Barnes Fringe Festival, OSO Arts Centre, 11 July 2019

A review by Matthew Grierson

If many people’s experience of delivery is a long wait in for a pizza, then it’s no surprise that Delivery is such a pacey production – it clearly wants to avoid having to give us the free garlic beard.

The speed with which Andy Walker’s script cuts from one scene to the next as expectant father Joe (Alex Walton) recounts his life story is fitting given the character’s former life as a squaddie, and the production is so well drilled that you’d think Lesley Manning were more sergeant major than director. It’s doubly impressive given that only last week this was a rehearsed reading: not only dialogue but action and lightning move so swiftly and effortlessly tonight that I couldn’t help being caught up in it.

Walton remains present onstage throughout and delivers a nuanced performance that conveys Joe’s self-doubt, rage, fear and charm, slipping seamlessly between narrator and participant in his own story. The comic self-deprecation he deploys to woo wife Angela is just as effective and affecting as the rawness of his terror when deployed on active service.

Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton is likewise engaging as primary school teacher Angela. She’s a humane and compassionate counterpoint to Joe’s troubled masculinity, no more so than when her journey to assembly with her class is juxtaposed with Joe weeping over the corpse of a fallen comrade in the foreground. Yet despite this contrast there is still a genuine, touching chemistry between them, as seen in their first meeting at a football match – never has talk of the offside trap been more sexually charged.

If anything, Aaryn-Stanton is under-served by a show whose focus is very much on masculine identity. Certainly Walker’s script is interested in exploring the contradictions and frailties of masculinity that are intensified by military experience, and is justly angry about the treatment of former servicepeople. Nevertheless, these concerns are worked out of a stock of blokey tropes including football, beer and nightclubs that seem as generic as the unnamed blue and white team that Joe and Angela support, tropes that especially in the first half are played for laughs.

This makes Joe’s deployment to the Falklands a sudden and specific about-turn. The show benefits from the detail and context this gives, but nothing so far had suggested it was set in any time other than the present, or warned that it would be venturing beyond wry comedy. Even on the battlefield the jokey asides continue, making Delivery feel like a lighter piece than it should be by rights.

To earn our full engagement with Joe’s plight, the show could create more sense of jeopardy around his mental state. As it is, he kills an officer in one scene and is acquitted in the next; similarly, an implausible war crime committed by his chaplain is mentioned briefly and then not referred to again. Although the consequences of both play out later, the narrative of redemption is so far advanced by this stage that it’s clear the play is hastening towards a happy ending – handed his baby daughter, Joe quickly abandons thoughts of suicide. Taking the time to dwell on the trauma of war could have given more opportunity for legitimate discomfort and deepened our sympathy with Joe’s situation.

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All the same, the momentum prevents us from lingering too long on these missed chances. In this the play is ably served not only by the energy of the two leads but also Gordon Peaston and Louis Davison, who each take on an impressive array of supporting characters. Peaston begins as a succession of stock authority figures – judge, teacher, sergeant major – enlivening them beyond sitcom stereotypes, before turning in a sensitive and insightful portrayal of the padre from whom Joe seeks support. Just as versatile, Davison offers us a posh officer and a light-fingered youth as comic turns, as well as the more sobering vision of an Argentine prisoner whose drowning drives Joe to murder.

Between them, Peaston and Davison also bring to life a veritable bestiary of hallucinatory animals, highlights being Peaston’s camp slug, Davison’s philosophic sheep and a laconic fruit fly. The switches of mood and manner in each case are total and convincing, set off by the simple addition of headgear or other costume flourishes.

That it’s possible to conceive of a show that deals with PTSD and gay gastropods and bring it to a happy ending without it coming across as silly or trite is a function of Walker’s well-crafted script. Although it focuses more than it might on maintaining momentum, it attends to the detail in dialogue that fleshes out characters as well as demonstrating an admirable command of plot. In this much, Delivery delivers.

Matthew Grierson
July 2019

Photography courtesy of OSO Arts Centre

Remembering a Poet

Lasting Gift of Comic Verse

Remembering a Poet

Performance Poetry, The Adelaide, Teddington, 7th July

Review by Celia Bard

The July meeting of the Poetry Performance Group was a poignant occasion following the tragic, accidental death of co-founder, Bob Sheed. Joint co-founder, Anne Warrington, opened the evenings programme by recalling the formation of Poetry Performance and Bob’s influential impact on the group. She followed this with readings including Address Book by Maggie Butt, who reflects on the dilemma of what to do with names written in an address book once those people have died.

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Robin Clarke presented his own moving poetic tribute to Bob, providing a moving brief biographical account of many aspects of his life. On a lighter note was the reading of I’m a Little Teapot, taken from Bob’s collection of poems, It’s Not What You Think, a tongue in the cheek reflection on changing social habits and etiquette. Graham Harmes then performed another of Bob’s numerous humorous poems The Lawyer, a poem that beautifully demonstrates Bob’s talents as a wordsmith, and how highly articulate people can use words to manipulate and outmanoeuvre people.

In contrast Judith Blakemore Lawton delivered Bob’s parody poem Unstoppable, a new twist on the Dutch story of the boy who plugged the hole in the dyke with his finger. In this version his efforts are rewarded with a good walloping from his father. The first half of the evening concluded with Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale, splendidly read by Ann Vaughan Williams, bringing the group back to the reality of contemplating Bob’s sad death.

Heather Montford, our MC for the evening, opened the second half with her poem No Golden Glory, the last line resonating with Bob’s work that like the chestnut tree, it will survive. Breaking the mood was Tony Josolyne’s delivery of his poem The Casting Couch, a humorous warning to those auditioning for theatrical, TV or film roles. The next performers were Vicki and Chris Naylor. Vicki gave us her shortlisted poem Another Time from the Roger McGough competition and printed in the Arts Richmond About Time anthology, a poem alive with fiery images, whilst Chris amused us with his rendition of Bob Sheed’s Gender Balance in which Golom, the hermaphrodite, thinks he had the right to use both the Ladies and the Gents toilets. Stephen Harman then gave us his historical I See No Ships, a reflection of Nelson’s last battle, cleverly written in rhyming verse. Following this was Barbara Lees self-reflective poem: I See Myself – What Do I See, a refrain that was echoed throughout each of the stanzas.

Steve White read two poems written by his late wife, Frances: Pink Fluff and Red Hat Band. These two poems seemed so appropriate to the occasion – particularly poignant as Frances only died a few months ago and regularly attended Poetry Performance sessions. In the same vein Carol Wain presented The Planting of Trees in Southern Scotland, a poem from her poetry collection More Poems for Alice, inspired by the loss of her much loved, gifted daughter who was killed in 2000. Heather Montford concluded this somewhat reflective session with Fallen Leaf.

Although the subject matter of the evening was greatly influenced by memories of Bob Sheed and others who have departed this life, the prevailing mood was uplifting, brought about by the humour in many of Bob’s poems. Members of Poetry Performance were as much celebrating his gift of comic verse and laughter as his sad loss.

Celia Bard
July 2019

Photography courtesy of the Bob Sheed estate

Blood, Sweat and Vaginas

Tough Journey of Self-Discovery

Blood, Sweat and Vaginas

by Paula David

Barnes Fringe Festival at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 9th July

A Review by Celia Bard

The Barnes Fringe Festival is now in its fourth year. An integral element of the Festival is its support in the development of two brand new plays. The play, Blood, Sweat and Vaginas, written and performed by Paula David is one of the two winning entries selected to be developed, refined, and performed over the course of the Festival. Performers are given the opportunity to perform their show twice, once a sneak view into a work-in-progress of the production using audience response to help in refining performance, and again as a fully, developed, and workshopped show.

One of many distinguishing features in Blood, Sweat and Vaginas is the sparse use of props. In fact, Paula David as Carolann doesn’t use them. She relies entirely on voice, physical movement, mime, song and one isolated chair, which is moved just once throughout the production. Carolann doesn’t direct any conversation to the chair, it is just there. The audience is left to interpret its symbolism, though at the end of the play its symbolism becomes clearer. To provide an interpretation in this review risks the danger of spoiling the end of the play, so this reviewer will refrain from doing so.

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Blood, Sweat and Vaginas, a monologue play, runs for about an hour. Paula David is just superb as Carolann, the main character, who invites the audience to follow her on her path of self-discovery. With her we learn who she is, meet some of the main characters in her life, share her pain and discomfort, laugh at her jokes, respect her honesty, and admire her ability to burst into song whenever her feelings threaten to overwhelm her.

Carolann is an intriguing and fascinating character, shrouded in self-doubt, but with an air of mystery about her. She oscillates between loud, outrageous, shocking behaviour to moments of intense introspection about her relationships with men, her daughter Tanya, and her inability to make love without feeling intense vaginal discomfort. Suffering from atrophic vaginitis she only slowly realises the nature of this condition, which makes the act of love such a painful one. She states that she she is not frustrated, only puzzled, and it certainly does not stop her from being sexually aroused.

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Her journey of discovery begins at the age of sixteen, her GCSE year. The dialogue here is characterised by a mixture of nervousness and humour. We follow her through the complexities of her life. Her first attempts at singing are hesitant although Paula David does just enough for the audience to realise that she is a performer with a rich, punchy but melodious voice. Continuing this journey of self-discovery, we learn about Carolann’s insensitive husband and marriage, motherhood, divorce, boyfriends, the lonely years, the painfulness of her condition, and eventually reconciliation and resolution.

 

During the play Carolann often refers to a character called Shelly. Who Shelly is doesn’t become clear until the end of the play, but she is certainly somebody Carolann knows extremely well and feels very close to. Shelly’s name and the snippets of sung music lines throughout the play act similarly to motifs, repeated word and musical phrases that contribute to Carolann’s moods. For example, the sung lines, “finding yourself,” “I don’t know why,” “being put down,” are delivered when we learn from Carolann that her husband has had an affair with another woman, Tracy. “Don’t know me,” and “sexy bitch,” are other phrases that are heard again.

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This play demands a great deal of an actress in terms of physicality, mime and vocal range, and Paula David doesn’t disappoint. Her miming of intercourse with Jacob is strongly physical but is not obscene. At other times she throws herself on the floor with complete abandonment as when she trips on the dance floor and lands on a male figure, very much enjoying the proximity of his maleness. We meet a number of different characters on Carolann’s journey and Paula David succeeds in making them very real.

Against this backdrop of sex, song, laughter, physical action, there are quieter moment, times when Carolann is more reflective and when we learn more of her inner thoughts. Here she breaks the fourth wall and directs her observations to the audience. She manages to do this in a way that is conspiratorial, there is no sharp break between her engagements with other characters and chats with the audience. During these moments the audience get insights into her vulnerability.

The final encounter in this monologue is Carolann’s exchange with her daughter Tanya, whom she thinks may be gay. She thinks this because of their inability to easily communicate with each other. Realisation occurs when Tanya hands Carolann a bunch of flowers. The audience learn that Tanya is very supportive of her mother during anniversaries of a very sad event in Carolann’s life. Tanya is not gay; she has a boyfriend but can never find an occasion to tell her mother about him. The play ends on a strong note of hope and this is symbolised by Carolann and Tanya making pancakes together.

I wish Paula David the very best of luck with Blood, Sweat and Vaginas. It is a beautifully, constructed play, works on many different levels and is performed by a multi-talented actor. It deserves a good audience.

Celia Bard
July 2019

Photography  by Arnhel de Serra; image by Mark Taylor

About Time

Memorable Images Unleashed

About Time

Arts Richmond Book Launch at the Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham, 29th June

A review by Gemma Craig-Sharples

As Roger McGough writes in his foreword, the poets have ‘unleashed some memorable images’ on the subject of time. The poems which make up Arts Richmond poetry anthology range from reflective and thought-provoking to abstract and whimsical.

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This variety was magnificently showcased during the launch, when they were beautifully read in the intimate and atmospheric Mary Wallace Theatre. Some poets read their own work, adding to the intimate feel of the event and really bringing the myriad of poetic voices in the collection alive. A highly enjoyable evening was complemented by musical interludes from Ian Lee-Dolphin, Lucy Lyrical, and Kevin Taggerty.

For the performances, the poems had been grouped into categories such as linear time, time and the natural world, temporal illusion, and lingering shadows, and these groupings encouraged listeners to look for connections between the works and listen for the unrelenting tick-tock of time running throughout the poems. These diverse groupings also enabled listeners to appreciate just how thoroughly the anthology explores this abstract concept of time, revealing its complex and multi-faceted nature whilst providing an innovative structure to the readings which was highly engaging.

As is to be expected from the subject of time, which Roger McGough rightly describes as a ‘difficult concept’, the poems were wonderfully diverse. Several poems had a melancholy tone, notably Ian Williams’ The Spoon in the Bathroom, which dealt with memory and loss. Others were more playful explorations of memory and time, as in Heather Moulson’s The Summers of Hate, in which the speaker remembers ‘yearning for love whilst my overalls stank of fish’.

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This wry humour also characterised by David Hornsby’s The Oldest Man Alive: the eponymous figure of the poem is a wily salesman of bottles of ‘eternal youth’. However, Simon Tindale’s Simon Must Be In Bed By Eight strikes a tragicomic note, and Tindale’s performance captured the whingeing, petulant tone of the child, as he reveals that Simon is 93-years old: what Philip Larkin described as that ‘whole hideous inverted childhood’.

In Tread, Alice Jacobs describes a Polynesian belief that life should be lived facing backwards, towards our ancestors, and this anthology should allow others to take guidance and inspiration from a new wave of poetic ‘ancestors’.

Gemma Craig-Sharples
July 2019

An abridged version of an article first published by Arts Richmond

Photography by Bess Hamiti and Lucy Lyrical

About Time can be purchased on-line at Arts Richmond