I was looking forward to Oliver Emanuel’s new play The Monstrous Heart as I have seen some fine theatre at the Traverse in the past, but in spite of two deeply committed, intense performances from Christine Entwistle as Mag and Charlene Boyd as her wayward daughter Beth it didn’t really work for me.
Mag has fled to a remote cabin in Canada with her granddaughter after considerable heartache and a lot of bad behaviour from her daughter who is completely out of control. When Beth turns up on the doorstep, having tracked her down after being released from prison, there is a long, violent recrimination in which taunts and resentment from the past come thick and fast, forming the action of the play. We are shown a story of addiction anger and bitterness and I just couldn’t quite take it in and believe in it. It was all too sudden, too fast and furious to take in. I needed time and changes of pace, breathing spaces which are not there in the performances, the writing or the direction, so that I would be able to take in the situation and the characters properly and invest in them. It is a short play with no interval and there is no respite. The one quiet moment was when the dead bear on the kitchen table (waiting to be taxidermied) speaks in a disembodied voice. If the play as a whole had worked for me this could have been a powerful sequence- the play is asking the question who is the monster here- but the writing, particularly for the mother’s character, is a little heavy handed and didn’t always avoid cliché. I just didn’t quite buy it. High melodrama is difficult to bring off and there are no half measures. It either works brilliantly or not at all. The lady next to me slept through it. It was all a bit much for her I think and the decent sized matinee audience were also clearly very unsure at the end. It should have been a gripping heartstopper of a play leaving me feeling wrung out after a shocking ending rather than being left as a slightly bewildered observer.
None of these problems were the fault of the two actors. They had a lovely set to work on but apart from that I felt that they deserved better from their writer Oliver Emanuel and their director Gareth Nicholls. He gave the play some nice moments but didn’t quite make the whole thing work for me. A missed opportunity.
A world is waiting.
The sun burns across the beach
and the day lifts off.
She was the heartbeat of my day,
my follower, my shadow.
Whether it was a full on stare
for a piece of warm bacon
or a tiny beat of the end of her tail
when she was half asleep.
She looked out for me
and trusted me to be there for her.
We were a team.
When something happened
that she didn’t understand
she would catch my eye.
“Are we OK?”
“It’s fine. Walk on.”
She loved her comfort,
knew her worth,
gave full on hugs-
front legs on my knees
as I bent down,
head over my shoulder,
with a tiny grunt.
It’s not often that a local play which isn’t by Alan Ayckbourn returns to the Stephen Joseph as an award winner on two continents. Build a Rocket by Scarborough writer Christopher York has just done exactly that. It won the Holden Street Theatre Award and the Sunday Mail best female solo show award on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 and an Adelaide Fringe Best theatre award in 2019.
It may not be the most innovative piece of writing you would hope to see, as it treads a well worn path- that of the flawed single mother desperately trying to turn her life around after a poor time at school and an early pregnancy- but as someone who has worked in Scarborough and lived close by the town for a few decades I can tell you that it rings true to its setting and the central character, Yasmin, who has to hold the stage on her own for an hour and a quarter was instantly recognisable to me. There are many young women very like her walking the streets around the theatre bringing up their children with dedication in difficult circumstances. After hearing the Brocklehurst cup mentioned I think I can even hazard a guess at which of the town’s primary schools Christopher York went to.
It takes enormous energy and concentration to turn in a solo performance as good as the one that Serena Manteghi gives as Yasmin. She never lets the pace drop and she is both fierce and touching. It is her performance that allows the play to take flight and her conviction lifts the writing and gives it force. She makes us believe in Yasmin’s struggle and also plays other characters along the way deftly as Yasmin tries to keep going, stay strong and build her rocket to lift her out of her predicament. I admired her performance very much.
One thing did sadden me. There was no interval and two people walked out very prominently by climbing over the centre of the front row while the play was in full flow. It was the height of rudeness. I presume it may have been because hearing the f word and some of the subject matter was too much for them. It was a small Saturday matinee audience and I went home wishing that some of the young people- especially the young women- who would have lapped it up if they had only been made to sit in front of it could have been shepherded in from the streets. It’s the kind of theatre we need in Scarborough, locally made, high quality and absolutely heartfelt and something needs to be done about getting the word out when there is a chance to see something like this. A play like When We Are Married may sell out the main house but the people who want to see it will not be there for ever and if theatre in Scarborough is to have a future this is it.
Lucie Rie (1902- 1995) was one of the greatest potters of the twentieth century. She was quiet, calm, and gently confident and her work has all those qualities too. After fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938 she made her home in London and developed her career, which had started successfully in Vienna, there. Her technical skill was formidable. When David Attenborough watched her work, late in life, he asked her whether a pot made in two pieces proved to be weak where the two pieces join she simply said quietly, no- which was true if she was the one who made it. As the person looking after the room for the gallery said to me, she knew her clay. There is a zen like quality to her forms and glazes and the scratched decorations which she often carved into her work, a calm insistence on their own perfection. It feels as though they are exactly as they should be. Attention has been paid and care taken.
There is a good selection of her work in the current exhibition at York Art Gallery, set out in a single large room. A range of the buttons and jewellery which she made in order to make ends meet and which found their way onto the catwalk decorating the clothes of Issy Miyake when she passed them on to him, beautiful flared, footed bowls which she shaped on the wheel to a delicacy and thinness that not many potters would be able to achieve, vases with glowing colours, all complimenting each other, made with a single eye and hand. They are simple, modernist forms with ancient Roman and Japanese influences which have a quiet joy. There is nothing flamboyant here, nothing shouting for attention. They just take their place in the world displaying all the assurance and skill that their maker put into them. It is lovely work. A joy to see.
“Why are you so unbearable?”
“I don’t know. I just am.”
I sat with my ginger beer watching what seemed like hundreds of immaculate, formally uniformed, small boys and girls being shepherded up the stairs at the Theatre Royal towards the upper circle. Yes this was Wise Children’s much heralded production of Malory Towers and we were all going to have a simply splendid afternoon while remaining well behaved at all times. Alongside the young ones there were women ( and a few men) of all ages ready to revisit their childhood and rekindle memories of a series of books which had meant a great deal to them. We were all in the best of good moods. Nothing could go wrong and it didn’t. We were in for an afternoon of midnight feasts, intense friendships, hateful bullying, wise words and daring rescues. We were all going to do our very best, stick up for what is right and learn our lessons in life and by the end we would be true Malory Towers girls.
The whole cast worked together beautifully and made sure that while they were types which we could recognise and remember they never descended into cliché. They allowed us in on the joke but at the same time we ( and they) believed every word they said. I was lucky enough (being on the front row) to be right next to the two audience members who Rebecca Collingwood chose as her parents and hear her pleading and tears at close quarters as she stood right in front of them, begging not to be sent away, unless it was to a finishing school in Switzerland. Francesca Mills had delightful energy and goodwill as Sally Hope, I loved Rose Shallou as the vulnerable and misunderstood Mary Lou Atkinson, Renee Lamb as the strong minded Alicia Johns, and Vinnie Heaven as horse mad Bill Robinson- my favourite character in the books and a tricky one to get right. Izuka Hoyle was perfect as the hot headed heroine of the books, Darrell Rivers. There was some lovely harp playing from Mirabelle Gremaud who also played Irene Dupont and the whole cast made a great team- a believable group of close knit, hot-housed young girls with all the stresses and joys that will produce.
The speed and agility of the cast, combined with a clever school set on two levels providing a dormitory and space above it to allow space for movement and dance and Emma Rice’s pacey direction and skilful adaptation meant that the show zipped along at a fast rate and the musical numbers were a delight- especially a storming version of Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing.
It’s relatively rare that a production sets out to do something and succeeds so completely. When it happens an audience can relax and enjoy ourselves- we are in safe hands. This production can stand alongside Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off and that is high praise coming from me.