Review: What Becomes?

A gripping and thought-provoking performance, reviews Drama Barn’s ‘What Becomes?’

IMG 3302 Photo Credit: EJS Photography

Venue: Drama Barn
★★★★☆

‘Nothing will come of nothing.’

The words of senile octogenarian King Lear in Shakespeare’s seminal play seem to be turned on their head as DramaSoc present this absorbing new play by writer Thomas Ryall. Produced as part of the society’s push for new student writing, Ryall’s script shows real potential in its depiction of a repressed lesbian teenager struggling to cope with a newborn child in a conservative 60s village. Dialogue is, in the main, realistic and flows well, though the overuse of bad language seems unnecessary and pulls us out from the period at times.

Kate Mason leads an all-female cast, adeptly directed by Katie Wilkinson, and there are some great performances – particularly Jessica Alterman, who plays struggling new grandmother, Joyce, and Alicia Barnes, who plays her eldest child, Sarah. Alterman’s ability to switch between northern humour and Coronation Street drama marks her out as a particular talent.

Music is instrumental in setting the period of this play and there are some lovely Motown tracks chosen to accompany the action, though there were times when more of the tracks themselves could be used. Martha and the Vandellas’ Nowhere to Run proved an especially apt choice in a scene where reality starts to hit home for Jane. I just wished the scene could have gone on longer and we could have used the length of the track to see a greater progression in the tension from Mason as panic sets in for Jane. There also seemed to be an odd choice of closing track in Jimmy Ruffin’s What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. It’ll spoil the plot if I reveal how, but go along for yourself and I’m sure you’ll agree.

The homosexuality theme which runs through the piece was a nice idea but took me by surprise, given the way that babies were made in the 1960s. A teenage pregnancy and a lesbianism storyline seemed to jar for me and I would have liked to have seen this plotline addressed in a prelude to the What Becomes? that could continue into the already-existing play. Some food for thought there for Ryalls.

The play’s design is simple but functional and I thought the use of hanging bedsheets to replicate the rows of washing lines in urban towns worked well. The seemingly constant revolving of a bed to differentiate between scenes in the family’s living room and Jane’s bedroom jarred the action somewhat, though. Perhaps another sign to suggest location change would have been better or, better still, setting the whole piece in one location.

On the whole, though, this is a play that shows real promise. With a little more work it could become a perfect example of a kitchen sink drama of the period it’s set in, and in doing so, it could illustrate exactly how some of the constraints on women during the 1960s were almost as crazy as Lear’s little incident in the storm.

6 comments

  1. This is a very smug review. Some food for thought there for Matthew Ingram.

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  2. 1 Nov ’14 at 8:33 pm

    Molly Frances

    Not sure I understand how ‘babies were made in the 1960s’ can be that different from now?

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  3. 1 Nov ’14 at 9:31 pm

    Matthew Ingram

    Hi Molly. By that I mean that treatments to allow a homosexual couple to have children such as IVF wouldn’t have been available to the family at the time and therefore you would have had to have conceived the ‘traditional’ way. This, combined with the huge part that sexuality plays in the piece and the fact that it wasn’t mentioned in any of the publicity for the play I’d seen left me confused to why it was there. I felt that, though the theme of sexuality and Jane’s struggle to express or explore her sexuality was a nice idea, the teenage pregnancy storyline was enough for the play as it stands. I would have liked to have seen the theme of sexuality explored perhaps in a first act to the play, where it could command the attention of the audience for the entirety of that section as opposed to having to tussle with the teenage pregnancy plot.

    Though I’m not sure who ‘Yourmum’ or the five likers are, I’d like to make clear that the review was not meant to be ‘smug’ at all. I’ve been involved in many productions and I know exactly how much work goes into them so would never try to look down on anyone at all. I simply tried to offer an accurate, balanced and constructive review for a piece which, as I say in the review, I think has a lot of potential. If my points didn’t come across in that fashion then I apologise that they weren’t read in this way.

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    • I’m pretty sure that Jane mentions a casual boyfriend (possibly named Paul) at the beginning of the play, stating that her mother thinks it is good form to have him around. Although she says they “don’t do much”, I am fairly certain the implication is that Paul is the father, creating the central dilemma of the play: Jane has been lumbered with a baby she doesn’t want, which is a permanent reminder of the life she is constantly being forced into, despite her desire to explore her sexuality beyond that.

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  4. 2 Nov ’14 at 8:46 am

    Molly Frances

    I see. The absence of the father (even in dialogue) was certainly something I felt forced. However, I do not perceive Jane’s homosexuality (or perhaps bisexuality; it’s a shame this isn’t considered) as superfluous. It seems a fundamental part of her struggle with motherhood as it exaggerates her sense of unworthiness and fear of public contempt. Also, her desire for Tracey often leads the plot as their relationship leads to the teacher’s involvement in the story, Jane’s rebellious trip to the party and, most importantly, reveals her potential to be tender when we are so often disappointed by her failure to behave so with her baby.

    Yours is not a smug review at all.

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  5. Nihil ex nihilo

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