Brighton Year-Round 2021
Directed and acted by Tony Bannister and Robert Hamilton with Anna Crabtree. With production by Chris Bowers and James Meikle and thanks to David Lindsay for permission. Till March 27th.
Lewes Little Theatre have take to online theatre with a swing since their AGM last year. There’s not many sentences that include AGM and innovation but this is certainly one.
For their second production, Tony Bannister and Robert Hamilton – after a pre-show discussion – present David Lindsay’s Our Little Surprise, starring and directed by them on zoom.
It’s a duologue, a fine hour of storytelling. Think Brian Friel’s Faith Healer and it’s a fair indication of the way this work moves.
Trevor (Bannister) relates his birth, to a fifty-year-old father born in 1900, and younger mother, growing up in tied accommodation. By far the youngest of three sons Trevor outlines his distant father, over-protective mother. The brothers though are the challenge; scornful animal freak David the great wild rabbit catcher, and ten-years-elder elder Stephen, played by Hamilton, just a little less forbidding, jovial even. Trevor wins a grammar school scholarship.
Their father had two brothers who went off to WW1, and Alwyn came back gassed, emigrating to New Zealand for his health, ultimately owning a vineyard. Stephen, with an agricultural degree, joins him. Distant David joins too and thrives, taking over management.
The estate the parent family lives on gets sold, the father still gets work as an accountant. They move to a tiny cottage, Uncle Alwyn dies, the father goes for the funeral. They all emigrate.
Bar Trevor who doesn’t want to go, he admits to his Auntie Pam. ‘But your mother will be devastated.’ ‘Yes that’s why I don’t want to go’ says the prescient youngest. The burden of narration falls on Bannister and he makes fine use of a slightly awkward inward-looking young man maturing differently and away from his family.
Back with Hamilton’s brisk Stephen we learn of his marriage, child, and their father thriving as the firm’s accountant.
A little over halfway the play becomes livelier with connections between the two duologues like ‘I bet he did’ Hamilton snatching up Bannister’s storytelling. It shuttles between them more rapidly.
Trevor claims he’s not the brightest boy but hard-working, wins champions and leaves to read History at Cardiff. There he meets fellow history student Penny on his first day: they instantly, permanently bond. Local, Penny brings Trevor to her family; he’s adopted. And completing degrees they start work with the Welsh Historical Service and teaching respectively.
Death intervenes. Trevor’s curiously unmoved – and Stephen rounds on him for being distant when they too – bar the mother – are remote. The brothers buy Trevor out, for a derisory amount but Penny and he buy their home. Auntie Pam and Uncle John emigrate to look after things and death intervenes again, just as the young couple’s child is born. Trevor’s tribute though for once goes down well.
Trevor’s and Penny’s life is serene, two grown-up Welsh-speaking children, and vestiges of contact with New Zealand cease. Till the next generation in the person of Warren (David’s youngest by a second marriage) makes contact. It’s Stephen’s eightieth. There’s some final surprises. And a loose end with Penny I’d like cleared up, but overall it’s a clear narrative arc.
Bannister as introvert Trevor, and Hamilton an almost boisterously extroverted and understanding Stephen give sure-footed, perfectly-attuned performances. Lewes Little might get used to this, and there’s no harm in interpolating a few zoom productions accessible by everyone amongst live ones.
An attractive, gentle meditation on family, with spectral undertones. Excellent production.