I feel a little panic entering a theatre for a one-person play to find a seemingly basic set design. My natural inclination is to want as much distraction from the solitariness of the person on stage as possible – multiple pieces of furniture to move around on, lots of little props to play with, all so we can avoid eye contact and the general intensity that comes from silently praying that this one person will remember their seventy five minute monologue. In this case, the set is a curved white wall with various white blocks, all overlaid by a partial map, and that’s all. Not much of a give-away and certainly not much in the way of distraction.
But as it transpires, there’s no need. Fifteen-year old Rory (Gemma Barnett) saunters on stage and begins talking so casually, she might have been mid-conversation with an old friend. She starts at the end – in a helicopter flying over the North Pole with her dad’s ashes and her mum sobbing – and then continues on to the beginning – a completely commonplace death (a hit-and-run) of a nice and outwardly ordinary Geography teacher, who also happens to be Rory’s dad. Thereafter unfolds the journey from funeral to helicopter.
There is a whole lot of room in this plotline for saccharine catharsis and maudlin sentiment, but Tatty Hennessy’s writing is so perfectly British, deftly avoiding the more obvious route of overly stated loss with heaps of honesty and bone-dry comedy. Lucy Jane Atkinson’s direction sees Barnett deliver the entire play with impossible ease. She repeatedly teeters on the edge of mourning relief and repeatedly pulls back, making the few moments of emotional exposure all the more poignant. The script is also sneakily quite educational; I’ve now got a whole bank of fun facts about the north pole- my favourite involves a chisel made of poo.
Christianna Mason’s design is clean and simple – the camouflaged blocks house the few props used, as well as doubling as beds and chairs when required. But that’s all. And in fact, any more would have felt superfluous and distracting. The sound (Mark Sutcliffe) and lighting (Lucy Adams) follow suit, appearing sparingly and to great effect.
I feel it requires a mention that A Hundred Words for Snow is a story about an adventurous teenage girl, produced by a near-entirely female cast and crew, which is rare on both counts. And if this play is anything to go by, it should happen all the time because it appears to lead to roaring success.
“in modernising the poetic writing, the atmosphere of reality in the first half leaves us unprepared for the expressionism of the second”
The first of Federico Garcia Lorca’s famous trilogy of tragedies expressing extreme elemental passions and the powerful Spanish theme of honour, ‘Blood Wedding’ is a poetic drama set in rural Andalucia. Influenced strongly by the past – medieval ballads, traditional songs and early metrical structure – he also incorporates modern and surrealist ideas, shocking in his day. Director, George Richmond-Scott, updates the story to present day London, leaving the verse dialogue behind and omitting characters, in particular the wedding entourage, which have a somewhat Greek chorus effect in the original. However, in relocating both in time and place, we lose the essence of close-knit family feuds, social pressures and the submissive position of women, which undermine the burning sense of calamity and resignation. And in modernising the poetic writing, the atmosphere of reality in the first half leaves us unprepared for the expressionism of the second.
The cast complement each other in style, creating moments of humour, music and movement but it is Maria de Lima as the Mother who is the underlying strength of the play, carrying her pain throughout as a reminder of humanity’s tragic impotence. The smouldering sentiments of Leo (Ash Rizi) are quietly but intensely present and the Wife’s sad fate is beautifully portrayed by Miztli Rose Neville. The Son and the Bride (Federico Trujillo and Racheal Ofori) each have their poignant moment – the opening scene showing the touching connection between Mother and Son, and the Bride’s moving declaration to Leo in the third act, but the weight of their doomed relationship fails to come across. Camilla Mathias’ musical interludes fit invitingly into the narrative as does her cameo role as the Neighbour, and Yorgos Karamalegos personifies the Moon with expressive movement, strangely out of place in this real-world concept.
While Christianna Mason’s set design fills the unadorned stage with doorways, platforms and steps to create a feeling of urban space, Richmond-Scott’s artful direction uses the whole theatre, cleverly involving the audience in the action. Lorca’s stage directions are very precise and he gives clear instructions for music, sound and colour. The lighting (Jack Weir) gives dramatic context to the bareness of the surroundings and the sound by Daniel Balfour is perfectly coordinated with the action, adding extra dimension to the scenes.
It is an innovative idea to remodel such a profoundly traditional piece of theatre. It has a relatable script, genuinely tortuous emotions, immersive involvement and abstract interaction but it is an uneven production in the general structure and on an emotional level.