Writer: Katharine Markwick
Venue: York Theatre Royal
From the moment you walk in to the performance space for Bed and Breakfast, written and performed by Katharine Markwick, there is a sense that you are walking in to a truly unusual and unique performance. For starters, the audience met at a sign in the theatre royal foyer rather than simply making there own way to a seat. More notably, there were only 12 audience members and once we had trooped down the theatres exhibition corridor towards the Keregan room, we were not met with the expected row upon row of chairs, but instead, an intimate rustic coffee shop environment complete with hand-crocheted doilies.
Without warning the performance began and we heard singing behind a closed door before the bespectacled Carol Carpenter, our apparent host, appeared ready to greet us – her guests, who are staying at Hive Corner Bed and Breakfast in wait for a wedding.
Carol proceeded to ask each of us our names. “Amber” she repeats back to me, “like the traffic light”, and to another woman, “Tania…I haven’t heard that one before”. The interaction doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t in fact stop for the rest of the play. We are asked the names of the marrying couple, the location of their honey moon (an audience member supplies the location – the south of France), we are asked about our talents, invited to make remarks, offered fig biscuits (“good for the bowls”) and indeed by the end of the play the audience was comfortably contributing bee-related puns without prompt whilst Carol responded, sometimes organizing flowers, sometimes behind us making a pot of tea, as if she really were just our chatty host.
The play itself was not simply a foray into improvisation however. The plot holding the interaction together was an engaging and intriguing journey into the goings on of the imaginary Upper Crevice, dashed with a large helping of humor. Carol nattered on about her relationships with Philip and Clifford, the Women’s institute and the Bees with a carefree meandering abandon, which as the play drew to its close came together in a sudden rush of significance to those of us listening in.
Ultimately this 45-50 minute play is an easy entry into the exceedingly humorous but subversive microcosm of Upper Crevice. The audience very much left the 4th wall behind, the comedy was easy coming, and the dark twist was sharp as a sting from one of Carol’s bees.
Photo credit: York Theatre Royal