Artefact and Something Unspoken

Artefact and Something Unspoken


The Playground Theatre

ARTEFACT and SOMETHING UNSPOKEN at The Playground Theatre


Artefact and Something Unspoken

“Together they are a delicious meditation on mid-century hidden desire”

Artefact / Something Unspoken intertwines two pieces of forbidden love, sharing a set, actors, and sapphic tensions. I took along a plus one who was not a date, but also not not a date, and leaning into liminality is the best way to experience this double bill.

The opening piece is Artefact, new writing from Rena Brannan. The piece imagines Betty Ford, of the eponymous clinics and First Lady duties, rediscovering a letter from a roommate from her dancing days.

It is set in July 1964, around the time Betty Ford had a psychiatric break before seeking help for her addictions. The piece suggests the letter, the Artefact, may have had something to do with this.

Artefact is dense with text and reminiscence, with rich, clever lines. Sophie Ward, as Betty Ford, delivers these in a captivating performance of the monologue. She roams around the audience cabaret tables, the central aisle, the (working!) bar to stage right, and the ballet studio platform to stage left, always demanding the audience’s full attention and at one point, their seat.

Sarah Lawrie, who performs as Grace Lancaster in Tennessee Williams’ Something Unspoken, is also part of the set for Artefact. Her arm crashes out from under the central stage platform clutching the found Artefact, before taking up position behind the bar, and finally as a stand-in for Betty’s old roommate in a lovely silhouetted pas de deux with Ward.

The lighting and direction across the two pieces (Steven Dean Moore and Anthony Biggs respectively) is used cleverly, almost as a character in itself. The swinging of a hanging bar light marks Ford’s descent into addiction, and opposite side lights add punctuation whilst relaying a conversation with her mother.

Artefact merges into Something Unspoken with Amanda Waggott taking the main stage platform as grande dame Cornelia Scott. Tara Kelly’s costumes and stage design immediately places us in classic Williams territory, the home of a fading Southern Belle.

Something Unspoken is one of Williams’ more obscure plays, a short and efficient one act that rips apart the facade of a gentile scene to reveal the emotional churn beneath. It studies the codependent relationship between the outwardly fierce Cornelia and her secretary, the submissive Grace, at the crux of an election to their local United Confederate Daughters chapter. Cornelia wishes to be handed the title of Regent ‘by acclimation’, or she threatens to resign entirely.

Her refusal to confront her vulnerability and the prospect of rejection has isolated Cornelia from friends, associates, and her secretary. This loneliness has eaten away at her until her fraying threads snap in a confrontation with Grace, where she demands Grace starts voicing the ‘Something Unspoken’ between them.

Grace dances around Cornelia’s demands, filling silences with music from the victrola gramophone, or is saved by the ringing of the telephone that updates Cornelia with proceedings from the Confederate Daughters.

Sarah Lawrie plays Grace with shaking nervousness and a touch of ethereal distance, perhaps a continuation of her ghostly role in Artefact. However, she looks too young to have been encased for fifteen years with Cornelia Scott after a first marriage. Amanda Waggott manages to convey the chinks emerging in Cornelia’s boldness and ferocity well. Accents sometimes are less American South and more South Yorkshire, but this is rarely a distraction.

The set on the main platform perfectly encapsulates the old world faded glamour, with metallic roses suspended above the chintzy breakfast table. Stacks of records and the gramophone surround the stage, providing unsteady columns and barriers to navigate.

The two pieces work well as a double bill. There are several echoes outside of the underlying destabilisation of forbidden love, with the 4th of July a prominent motif. Together they are a delicious meditation on mid-century hidden desire; a heady evening to share with your more-than-friends.


ARTEFACT and SOMETHING UNSPOKEN at The Playground Theatre

Reviewed on 15th September 2023

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Jonathan Pang



Previously reviewed at this venue:

Picasso | ★★★ | January 2023
Rehab the Musical | ★★★★★ | September 2022



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