“a stellar debut, thoroughly researched with keen dialogue”
It is rare for theatre to leave the audience silently stunned in the final blackout. However, Bottled will succeed in rendering you utterly speechless, trying and failing to hold back tears. For a debut playwright and performed by such a youthful cast, it’s an awesome achievement.
Katy, simultaneously played by Alice Vilanculo, Isabel Stone and Hayley Wareham, introduces herself to us on her fifteenth birthday. Over the course of the next hour we follow her as she gets a boyfriend, studies for her GCSEs and tries to get on with her mum’s new boyfriend, Brian. Brian seems alright at first, apart from his baking of strawberry flavoured cakes (Katy’s least favourite) he actually seems like a cool guy, offering to pay for Katy’s Spanish holiday with her mates and taking her fishing. But gradually her mum stops seeing her friends, Aunty Carol doesn’t come round anymore, and mum has quit her job because Brian can look after the both of them on his own. It doesn’t take long before Katy’s mum is isolated and Katy starts to notice purple patterns around her mother’s eye.
Exploring domestic abuse from the perspective of a teenager, and someone whose life is secondarily affected by manipulation, violence and fear is deeply emotive. Katy’s innocence and naivety means it just hurts harder. Each of the three actors portray their own emphasis and interpretation but form a hive mind on stage so that each is a distinct part of Katy.
Hayley Wareham’s script is cleverly balanced, introducing Katy as a bright, witty and ambitious young girl who’s aware of the absurdities of modern life. You immediately warm to her through humour but ultimately empathise with sincerity as you see how quickly circumstances can change. It’s a stellar debut, thoroughly researched with keen dialogue. The piece sensitively and subtly explores the current failings of the welfare system, in which refuge centres, hostels and temporary housing make it painfully difficult to sustain a life free from abuse, let alone thrive with one.
Chris White’s direction is necessarily stylised having multiple actors playing the same character. This has the effect of actually elevating the horror of the situation through echoes, amplification and repetition of sound and movement (Jess Tucker Boyd). Conversely, the set and lighting is sparse, with no more than a handful of props used with surprising utility coming from helium balloons.
Bottled makes for a truly affecting piece filled with emotional urgency that certainly proves it’s not about big budgets when it comes to impactful theatre.
“Matthew Biddulph as Joe Gascoyne gave the most natural performance and almost always felt like he could have ended each sentence with a cheeky wink”
The Daughter-in-Law is back at the Arcola now occupying Studio 1, after a month in the smaller Studio 2 during the summer of 2018. It is one of D H Lawrence’s eight plays completed during his lifetime, although he’s more famously known for his poetry and novels. Jack Gamble’s revival some fifty-odd years since its first staging at The Royal Court in 1967 proves the central themes of marriage and family, set amongst Nottinghamshire’s mining community, are still relatable today.
Lawrence introduces us to the Gascoyne family. We have the matriarch and her two youngest sons, Luther and Joe, Luther’s wife of six weeks, the eponymous Daughter-in-Law, Minnie, and neighbour Mrs Purdy. These are the types of people Lawrence would have known well, having grown up in the mining community of Easton himself in the late 1800s. A thick Derbyshire accent (dialect coach Penny Dyer) is in full use throughout the play, which does take some getting used to, especially for southern London types. However, it does also make for great comedic moments, particularly Mrs Gascoyne’s use of colloquialisms to the young women in her sons’ lives.
Although complications to Luther and Minnie’s marriage are revealed very early on, it’s actually the relationship between the mother and her family members which draws the most scrutiny at the climax of the play with Minnie asking “how is a woman to have a husband if all the men belong to their mothers?” It’s an insightful statement delivered to sympathetic laughter, but at least one of the conclusions Minnie draws from this, that she would rather have a husband who knocks her about than one who can’t really love her, I cringed to hear.
Ellie Nunn and Matthew Barker as Minnie and Luther each show their force in the relationship in contrasting ways, Nunn verbally but Barker physically. Matthew Biddulph as Joe Gascoyne gave the most natural performance and almost always felt like he could have ended each sentence with a cheeky wink.
Each of the four acts are set in the dining room of either Mrs or Minnie Gascoyne’s homes. Louie Whitemore’s set is therefore unflashy but authentic viewed in the round. The lighting and sound also subtly, but cleverly work with the set to situate the play in both time and location. Geoff Hense complements lit candles on stage with warm orange glows. Dinah Mullen’s sound is most notable when recreating the sounds of the mine shafts in one tense moment.
This production at Arcola Theatre offers another chance to see this worthy revival, a gentle reminder that the plight of the miners did not start or end with Margaret Thatcher, and an honest acknowledgement that marriage is rarely a simple fairy tale.