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Seven Letters

by on 18 January 2018

Gentle Humanity

Seven Letters

by Rian Flatley

Noel Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre, until 20th January

Review by Genni Trickett

If you could see into your future, even for fifteen seconds, would you do it? What do you think you would see? Would fifteen seconds be enough?

Such are the musings of Faye, a feisty, Irish octogenarian currently residing in The Pines nursing home. It seems a strange train of thought for a lady of advanced years; after all, how far ahead would she be able to see? But Faye and her friends Lena and Tempie prefer to live on Memory Lane rather than in The Pines, and who can blame them?

As they settle down with an endless supply of tea, their routine demolition of the crossword is interwoven with reminiscences, flights of fancy and confidences. These ladies have been through a lot over the years. There have been happy times, hard times and devastating times, and they have faced them all with fortitude. They are survivors. Through monologues, flashbacks and song, we are privileged to push aside the curtain of time and peep into their lives.

Faye

Top-billing clearly goes to Faye, played with mercurial brio by Teresa Jennings. She talks the most, says deliberately provocative and outrageous things and is clearly used to being the centre of attention. In other hands the more muted Tempie and Lena might have faded entirely into the background; however, Clare Gollop and Kate Winder are not about to let that happen. Gollop’s Tempie hides a kind heart beneath a gruff exterior, and Winder, as Lena, has the smile of an angel – appropriately, as it happens. Writer Rian Flatley’s sparkling, witty dialogue is entertaining, but the gentle humanity of the script is what allows all three actresses to make their characters real, three-dimensional people. Their monologues are funny and touching, and give a fascinating glimpse into a time long past.

Less successful are the flashbacks involving Faye’s younger self, played by Stacey Leigh. While Leigh makes a sympathetic job of the role, she is too different from the older Faye for us to feel any emotional connection between the two of them. This feeling of distance is exacerbated when she sings, as her accent switches abruptly to American, emphasising the disparities rather than the similarities between them. Since there is no “middle-aged” Faye, and we hear nothing about her life between vampy young club singer and elderly care home resident, it is difficult to empathise with her progression. Similarly with Tempie; we hear about the devastation of her early years but nothing of note between then and now, and it is hard to believe that such a resolute woman would not have pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made something of her life. What happened to her in between? We will never know.

The relationship between the three ladies and their young care worker is beautifully handled in the script, and their description of her as a “window” painfully, heartbreakingly real. Unfortunately, Alice Taylor’s depiction of perky, kindly, chavvy Summer is laboured and many of her best lines marred by over-emphasis. In another production this might not have mattered, but when set against the masterly acting of Jennings, Gollop and Winder it jars. She is at her best when she sings; set to music her delivery is pure and poignant.

Despite the many trials suffered by the long-suffering trio, the tone of the play is fairly upbeat – right until the end. Flatley, who also directed the play, leaves our ladies in a state of uncertainty, helplessness and apprehension. While this may be upsetting, it is clearly a deliberate and considered decision. Flatley is making an important point; she wants us to know that, while death may be scary, life is infinitely more so. Particularly when one is old.

Nevertheless, to spend an evening in the company of Faye, Tempie and Lena is a pleasure. Their humour is infectious, and their courage and resolute determination give us hope. We feel that, despite everything, they can achieve anything they want to achieve. Maybe one of them will even finish that crossword.

Genni Trickett
January 2018

Photograph courtesy of Rian Flatley

 

 

From → Drama, Reviews

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