Moments & Empty Beds
Reviewed – 1st February 2018
“Moments … a touching work, full of sadness but also smattered with humour”
Although Pennyworth Production’s objective to create ‘new work to challenge old ideas’ could be open to interpretation, this poignant and compelling double bill certainly reinforces the ‘kitchen sink’ philosophy that real-life is drama in itself. Drawing on subjects often buried but part of the make-up of modern society – loneliness, family tensions, mental health – the slow, tragic undercurrent of ‘Moments’ and the restless, tragic unravelling of ‘Empty Beds’ fit together beautifully. With sensitive writing by Julia Cranney and masterly direction by Kate Treadell, the production focuses on the impact of the unspoken and the force of the absent, leaving the characters on stage battling to move forward from lives they have left behind or missed.
‘Moments’ interlocks two unlikely people, with clever, spoken dialogue, binding them together for the audience before they find their own friendship. Simon Mattack and Julia Cranney (Daniel and Ava) give strong, sympathetic performances as they try to keep up appearances between awkward glances and growing familiarity and struggling to find the warmth of human contact in the coldness of a big city. The pace, perhaps, remains constant for slightly too long and the action is somewhat precipitated after Daniel’s personal revelation, which cuts short a very moving scene. Nevertheless, it is a touching work, full of sadness but also smattered with humour.
While ‘Moments’ works well, ‘Empty Beds’ is a flawless piece of drama, perfectly directed and interpreted. Debbie Brannan (Jo) and Carys Wright (Emily) join Julia Cranney (Catherine) as three sisters on a train journey to visit their brother on his birthday. Inevitably the emotional bond connecting them tightens and loosens, and resentments, truths and affections are stirred up. The changing pace and mood and the superb acting are completely absorbing as the sisters, confined to a train carriage, cannot escape the confrontations as they unpick their relationships with each other.
Anna Reid’s set is perfectly unassuming in its simplicity, uncluttered by props, and the lighting (Ali Hunter) is unobtrusive yet carefully enhancing. Even the sound, which plays a prominent part in sketching the background, similar to a radio drama, does not detract from the stage. In all three aspects less is unquestionably more, all brought neatly together by Georgia Tetlow (Stage Manager and Operator). Moreover, Pennyworth Productions advocacy to favour women on and off stage is remarkable here and most fitting in the current climate of equality.
It is often hard to dramatise the delicate social issues broached in these plays. They can become sentimental, over-simplified or too dark. The company gives an honest, articulate version of what lies behind families and friendships, admittance, acceptance and regret, in well-balanced tragi-comedies. It shows how the survival instinct of human nature shines through the pain of life’s conditions with humour and hope, conjuring up a myriad of emotions in a highly recommended evening at the Hope Theatre.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Nick Reed
Moments & Empty Beds
Hope Theatre until 17th February