“The play’s premise is a ripe and interesting one and a promising structure for a fringe piece”
Grief, love and storytelling: some of life’s pressure points. Peter Taylor’s play oscillated between all of these, glancing upon moments of sincerity and tenderness. But no one emotion or experience was sustained, leaving me sometimes engaged, but ultimately unresolved.
Lindsey Cross and Howard Horner performed with commitment and passion. Their personal portrayals of parallel experiences of the grief of the loss of a child were heartfelt and genuine. Letting my eyes wander around the Lion and Unicorn’s in-the-round black box, I saw some moved and connected audience members. What the play lacks in clarity and depth, the actors try and make up for with presentness in the space and trust in one another.
The characters’ monologues contain vast emotional journeys and, at points, I found the direction excessive. Having each emotion and thought played by a recreative action was often distracting, especially because the play seemed to be reaching towards both characters achieving a sense of consolidation with their grief. River in the Sky worked well in the round: the privacy of the couple’s situation being viewed from all vantage points, as they struggled to communicate. But their time together in dialogue lacked the physical or emotional knowledge or understanding between two people who are or who have ever been partners, despite the individual actors inhabiting their roles. This was down to a somewhat disparate script; and scenes which built and fell from climax to catharsis rather at random.
The play’s premise is a ripe and interesting one and a promising structure for a fringe piece. The technical elements served the play in its current form and made it cohesive. But each character needed more layers in order for the play to do justice to its vital themes.
“this play, written for a stonking all-female cast, perhaps needed a bit more darkness, a bit more bite”
This all-female cast and crew production is fun, dynamic and crowd-pleasing. A strong cast of four, directed by Charlotte Everest, brought Robert Luxford’s sometimes witty, energetic script to life, making some bold and engaging staging and performance choices. But a truncated flow in stage action and occasionally restrictive episodic structure mean it sacrifices humorous depth for giggling shallows.
Natalya Wolter-Ferguson, Cecile Sinclair and Rebecca Wilson are a terrific trio: perfectly balanced, wonderfully varied and each with their own outrageous showcase moment, they were a joy to watch. I found their commitment and passion exciting, and their clear support of one another inspiring. All embraced the challenges which their parts required, and the result was three female performers being free, uninhibited and brave onstage. Gillian Broderick joins the action later, but her reputation precedes her as the infamous Mother Superior, who turns out not to be so superior after all. Broderick adds a new flavour to the plot, and she played the inscrutable, but ultimately liberally persuadable, nun with growing conviction and nuance as the play progressed. The cast enjoyed themselves, which was reflected back at them in the auditorium.
Luxford’s script has clear intentions, which you can read immediately in the show’s aesthetic, and the performers’ characterisation: camp, mellow shock, sex and silliness – all habit-forming stuff. But each scene is so contained that the narrative never quite moved beyond stereotype. I was particularly frustrated by Mother Superior’s rousing speech about the church’s misogyny, in which the first example she used was that make-up is perceived as problematic. This dissection never quite unravelled and complexified to such an extent that the little shocks of the show amounted to the feeling of anything beyond being tickled. Being tickled is fine, but this play, written for a stonking all-female cast, perhaps needed a bit more darkness, a bit more bite.
Tara Usher’s set design is excellent. It perfectly frames, frills and sasses up the Tristan Bates space, with a gloriously kitsch combo of electric neon, which accents model angel wings and a garish central cross, and baby pink and blue velvet bedsheets, adorned with simpering Christs. It creates the perfect realm for playful debauchery, and Everest’s direction comes to its own when she incorporates the bed as the centrepiece of the Sisters’ lusty confusion. Sally McCulloch’s lighting design, using torches and creating different moods and textures with isolated neon lights, is inventive and thoughtful. However, much as I thought the sound choices were second to nun (not a typo; what a playlist), a couple of the tracks could have been cut, to let the dialogue and performances speak. Recorded voices illuminating context and offering different perspectives on nuns within the church were a nice touch, but used a little too frequently: pairing them with blackouts at points furthered the script’s feeling of incompleteness.
Nuns was met with a warm audience reception. The production team have made a production which is worth seeing, for its creative vivacity and committed performances.