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.