Brighton Fringe 2012
An intense two-hander about "two friends whose lives are overshadowed by the dark events of their childhood, following 19th century Midwestern girls Hettie and Lavinia from ages ten to fifty."
Amy Bonsall directs, Noor Lawon plays Lavinia and Liz McMullen is Hettie in this two-hander which has the Mountain Meadow Massacre in the United States in 1857. as its backdrop.
This is an intense and intimate play that covers uncomfortable territory. It takes us into a time and place in American History that involves an emerging story that contains revelations that are shocking for the audience and traumatic for the characters. Much of the action centres on the psychological tension resulting from the impact of childhood events and we see the progrssive echoing impact on the two characters from childhood to adultdhood into midlife.
Set is perfect for the venue, costume and lighting are impressive and draw us in easily and quickly as does the simple but affecting link music. The play is evocatively realised and Jensen’s writing packs a lot of emotional punch and feels grittily real in the way he has imagined a world set over 150 years ago. Themes of the polygamy of the Mormons are explored and the two young women emerge as products of their culture and time, and of course, victims. These clearly and disarmingly echo the news reporting of those communities in more recent times.
Both actors inhabit the characters with a great deal of energy and commitment but there’s a step further this needs to go. This step is to be found, not in the spoken words but in two harder to manage elements – pacing and silence. The piece feels hurried and that hurrying doesn’t lend an authentic feel to the characters.
As a result the process of ‘acting’ is too prominent. There needs to be time to breathe and the variation in pace will add texture to the pair. Breathing will allow silence. Characters have to look like they are thinking about what they are hearing, as believable human beings. And that also gives lateral flavour as well as vertical depth to the characters in the unfolding, revealing story. This is the essence of personality portrayal in drama. So, more designed pacing and braver use of pausing is sorely needed. Otherwise this sounds like actors reciting their lines in character. And that is never enough, especially for an emotional play such as this.
The two actors are really on top of their material in terms of script and understanding how to be these two people in the story, and they deliver this play with a lot of soul. If they take the next leap and employ the more subtle skills of pacing and silence, this could be very good. As it is it is still worth seeing for the energy and the interesting story.
As the play progresses and darker secrets from the past emerge the performers step more fully into the skins of their characters and the piece deepens and feels a richer theatre experience. The two performers work very well together and there’s a strength here – a consistency of volume and character. There’s a successful synergy in the way they interact, in role. Musically speaking, the two work harmoniously.
On it’s way to becoming somethnig very good, it’s worth seeing at the start of its journey.