“holds up a mirror to modern life and exposes its contradictions and ironies… impressively, it does this with playfulness, originality and charm”
Saga is the daughter of God, sent down from Heaven to observe how we live on Earth. In her brief time here, she passes through a series of social scenarios that point out to her the various extremes of human nature.
Written by Michael Currell and loosely based on August Strindberg’s A Dream Play from 1901, this clever and witty one-hour production is ambitious and covers a lot of thematic ground. Saga is witness to racism, our treatment of the homeless, the superficiality of social media and the shallowness of political opportunists. The play squeezes in plenty of Big Issues (the property ladder, Brexit and poverty are all referenced) without taking obvious positions of judgement, perhaps because the narrative is so overtly surreal.
Some of the dialogue, references and in-jokes – and even some singing – takes place in Swedish. If you are Swedish (like many of the audience), it will obviously mean a lot more to you. If, like me, you’re not Swedish you may find parts of it completely baffling and somewhat alienating. But this frustration aside, you can still enjoy the general sense of whimsy and the ABBA songs that appear at the beginning and the end of the show.
The three supporting actors (Olivia Skoog, Marie Rabe and Julia Florimo) do an excellent job of bringing to life various characters, multitasking seamlessly in a way that makes the cast seem far larger than it is. Frida Storm is particularly strong in the lead part, conveying a believable innocence and naivety that’s touching and more than a little sad. She cannot understand the cruelty people demonstrate. Seeking to experience love, it makes no sense to her to hear of YouTube ‘likes’. And finding beauty all around her, she cannot fathom why human behaviour can be so ugly.
Directed and produced by Olivia Stone with the most minimal of stage sets, Saga holds up a mirror to modern life and exposes its contradictions and ironies. Impressively, it does this with playfulness, originality and charm.
“There are some terrific, sharp exchanges between mother and daughter which both ring true and are very funny indeed”
Meghan Tyler, who wrote Medicine, and also plays Moira-Bridget Byrne in this production, tells us in the programme notes that she was inspired to write the play after listening to the song Medicine, by Daughter. It is a haunting song, and its influence is clearly felt in Paul Brotherston’s beautiful, spare production. The set is bare, other than an old park bench, but the subtle and insistent sound design (terrific work from Iida Aino) and the perfect, nuanced lighting (credit here to Will Alder) work in tandem to provide the ideal, understated backdrop for Ms Tyler’s three-hander.
The play takes place on a clifftop in Northern Ireland, and mainly consists of a long conversation between Ma Byrne and her daughter Moira-Bridget, who has fetched up there after a drunken night out. Tyler has a good ear, and the dialogue initially zips along, ably treading the tight line between believability and theatrical interest. There are some terrific, sharp exchanges between mother and daughter which both ring true and are very funny indeed, and the moon-cup section (yes, ladies and gentlemen, you did read that correctly) was a particular high-spot.
The play does lose pace about a third of the way through, and the writing begins to become slightly repetitive, but the ball is kept in the air by Lynsey-Anne Moffat, who excels as Ma Byrne, and is heartbreakingly convincing throughout. Possibly because, as the writer, she is very close to the piece, Meghan Tyler’s Moira-Bridget doesn’t ring as true, and the character seems less fully realised than those of her parents. The play’s denouement reveals a level of seriousness to Moira-Bridget’s plight which does not come across when we see her on stage, and it takes the achingly poignant final scene between Ma and Da Byrne to lend some emotional gravitas. Adam Best was wonderful as Da Byrne; it seemed a shame not to use his talents more fully. Ultimately though, the play is Ma’s story, which puts flesh on the bones of the song lyric: ‘You’ve got a warm heart, you’ve got a beautiful brain/But it’s disintegrating from all the medicine’.
Medicine marks a very good writing debut for Meghan Tyler, and there is clearly a wealth of talent in the cast and creatives who have realised it. It is a diverting hour for theatre lovers and proof that The Hope continues to thrive under Matthew Parker, as the OFFIES recognised last year, awarding him the Best Artistic Director title. Long may it continue.