Brighton Fringe 2023
Anything by Alexander and Helen Millington is worth coming for. A Caravan Named Desire isn’t yet at the level of I Love Michael Ball but by the time you see it, it almost certainly will be. This is a team to watch and queue for.
Written and acted by Alexander Millington, with Helen Millington, directed by Helen Millington, designed, lit and stage-managed by Helen Millington with Alexander Millington. Further support and tech from The Squeak Theatre.
Till June 3rd
What’s it like to have a real husband and wife recreate a story the one has researched by posing as a punter, then the wife playing the hooker role the husband consulted? And what if…? Welcome to A Caravan Named Desire at the Brighton Rotunda’s Squeak.
We went to see this because by now we know the brand of Split Infinitive Theatre. Like the stunning, darkly comic I Love Michael Ball at the Lantern earlier this week, it’s written and acted by Alexander Millington, but with Helen Millington making it a two-hander. It’s again directed by Helen, designed, lit and stage-managed by Helen with Alexander.
The Squeak, ever blustered about by wind, has you believe we’re in caravan territory: the interior set is got up like one too, deck-chairs, items strewn over. Later we have a hand in it. That seems a Split Infinitive Theatre tradition.
To describe it: National Theatre of Brent meets Rattle of a Simple Man? The latter’s a 1962 play (by Charles Dyer) where, in essence a 40-year-old virgin meets a heart-of-gold prostitute. So we’re treated to much fourth-wall badinage sitting down, and as with their other show, some of us are handed souvenirs (last time a metal fan badge, this time a hooker calling-card). There’s clearly disagreement: Helen’s reading from a cue-script, as for some reason she’s not learned all her lines. There’s a pay-off, with unique use of a… cue-script.
Alex’s made a speciality of hapless hangdog males, and shifting with Helen now from their persona-as-selves to role-playing, Alex’s latest research allows him to take on the persona of Gary; who calls on Crystal, who apart from anything else, has a nifty line in star-gazing, naming all the constellations. That’s to anticipate.
The play’s about trust on one level, but also about the act of collaboration based on it, the limits of research, and craving for new material overstepping boundaries, and more darkly, a craving for new experience altogether.
It’s also a courageous exploration of the limits of collaboration, the strains of creative equals over a period of time, the way we catch each other when we fall in trust games. And did I say it was sometimes blissfully funny? Especially from a third in, when the show moves properly into gear.
Alex as Gary recalls an embryonic loser-turned-protagonist in I Love Michael Ball. Here, though Alex snaps back in, and though he’s clearly not on the same scale hangdog, manages to look pretty sheepish.
Helen is a superb actor – and this is the first time we’ve seen her act on the Fringe. It’s the particular reason to come if you’ve seen the previous show. Her persona of Crystal is both comedic and touching, playing with accents (“I can’t do Cardiff Welsh”) as Helen morphs her own way to Crystal. Crystal too is a creation of a different order to Gary: detailed, querulous and comic. And if you’re lucky she might pick you as her next, or previous punter. There’s a damaged, core truth to Crystal that Helen brings out. You want to know her story more.
This show, even more than the last, enjoys a lot of work from the audience. They might be asked to do anything from be told how good they are at – well find out, to throwing clothes around.
This is still an exciting work in progress, and by the time you see it, and it’s on for several festivals including Buxton, it will have developed. The use of the cue-script covers up an act but one wonders at the richness of pay-off. Could that script have been intended for an actress who doesn’t show, you wonder, then leaving Helen to enact a part not intended for her?
Both sing at the end, and extremely well. We don’t get as much of Alex’s remarkable rich tenor as previously. We might have some of this at the start, a sung badinage perhaps.
Anything by Alexander and Helen Millington is worth coming for. A Caravan Named Desire isn’t yet at the level of I Love Michael Ball but by the time you see it, it almost certainly will be. This is a team to watch and queue for, script or no (and you can buy those too). Edgy, adventurous, exciting work.