Reviewed – 14th July 2022
“Roslyn has created a world where sadness and humour have a strong bond”
Despite serious safety concerns, the plant Pennyroyal has often been used as medicine. Most commonly for fatigue and the common cold but in extreme cases to end pregnancy. Despite the appeal of its lilac-mauve flowers and spearmint fragrance, it harbours secret ingredients that kick with a potentially fatal toxicity. Lucy Roslyn’s play, “Pennyroyal”, is beautifully structured in a similarly natural way. Her words, stylised and arranged to catch the ear, possess undoubtable healing powers whilst simultaneously betraying the veins of venom that lay close to the surface. It is these two fundamental characteristics that drive the protagonists of Roslyn’s sophisticated and acute drama of enduring love.
Inspired by Edith Wharton’s novella, ‘The Old Maid’, Roslyn introduces us to sisters Daphne and Christine, and immediately ploughs the ugly and the beautiful into the same bed. Daphne (Madison Clare) was diagnosed with ‘Premature Ovarian Insufficiency’ at nineteen. Before the diagnosis, she didn’t give a thought about her ‘expected’ roles as a woman or, later in life, a mother. But with the chance now taken away it preoccupies her, and she is haunted by the ghosts of unborn children. Older sister Christine, played by Roslyn, is on hand to give her support, as well as her eggs that she doesn’t need for herself. Of course, it doesn’t go to plan. But the failed dreams and expectations of both women knot them together in an ever-tightening embrace that is suffocating as well as life-enhancing.
Josh Roche’s styled staging sharpens the dialogue and is complemented by Roslyn’s and Clare’s fine, natural performances. They pay little heed to the fourth wall but the switch from action to interaction is seamless. Similarly, the shifts in tone encapsulate the full and complicated spectrum of sisterhood emotions. They can never quite escape the shadow of the absent, unseen mother; sometimes just wandering about in the garden, sometimes six feet under it, depending on the shifts in time that either follow or lead the flow of the narrative.
Roslyn has created a world where sadness and humour have a strong bond. The tragedy of the ‘horrible coffee’ in the hospital waiting room threatens to upstage the fact that the mother is dying in the next room. Eggs, not yet embryos, are given names, and consequently adopt endearing personalities that never see the light of day. You could cry. You should cry. Yet you laugh instead. The intent behind the acting is faultless. The execution of these moments by Roslyn and Clare is quite extraordinary.
Edith Wharton planted the seed of this drama a century ago, but Roslyn has nurtured it and created a heart-warming and sometimes heart-breaking tale for today. One that resonates much more than the original. The focus may be on the things expected of women and what happens when they don’t go to plan (or rather the plan that society dictates), but it encompasses humanity as a whole and triggers wider reactions. By the same token, the intimacy of the Finborough’s stage is an apt setting for this play, but the story is in no way confined there. It follows you home, and brings a smile, and a tear, long after you’ve left the theatre.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Helen Murray
Finborough Theatre until 6th August
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