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Brighton Year-Round 2023


New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Drama, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre Studio


Low Down

You’s Rialto production at the Rialto won a FringeReview award in 2015. No reason to change that verdict.

Mark Wilson’s You. is directed by Emmie Spencer, Set and Costume Design Richard Blennerhasset, Production Manager Pat Boxall, Stage Manager Bryony Weaver

Lighting Design Strat Mastoris, Lighting Operator Alex Epps, and Sound Design Philip Castle, Sound Operation Philip Castle

Set Painting Simon Glazier, Bryony Weaver,  Poster Becky Alford, Programme Tamsin Mastoris, Photography Strat Mastoris, Publicity and Marketing Emmie Spencer, Health and Safety Ian Black.

Till October 14th


“So today: Friday. Imagine. Him, coming here.” Mark Wilson’s 2011 two-hander You. opens at New Venture Theatre directed by Emmie Spencer till October 14th. It’s a must-see, the finest thing in Brighton all week.

“You” swivels as a possessive through eight characters, several of whom don’t meet. It’s both accusatory and wondering, loving or grief-struck. It’s the point of a child given up for adoption, claimed, reclaimed, always other. Lit with subtle simplicity by Strat Mastoris, as is Philip Castle’s sound. There’s simply two chairs and Richard Blennerhasset’s understated costumes.

A 45-year-old Kathleen contemplates events of 30 years ago. Sophie Dearlove plays her younger and older self, her scolding mother June, her lover’s brief caustic of a mother Margie (both etched in biting words) and Vanessa, a mathematics academic who takes Kathleen’s child. Samuel Masters as Bill, Kathleen’s father, Frank the chance-met 19-year-old squaddie, Tom, Vanessa’s musician husband, and Charlie, Kathleen’s grown son.

That’s to navigate, not narrate, for Wilson’s produced a play that jump-cuts chronologically to and fro and to different people. Not just generating a narrative illuminated by being non-linear, but juxtaposed moments that tense in a gulf of loss, connection, fragility.

Wilson clams it’s all in Kathleen’s imagination or memory – but it’s palpably about people equally real. There’s monologues, conversations Kathleen’s not privy to, nor could imagine. Kathleen’s central though.

“You still have the clothes, don’t you;  the ones they let you keep?  Still in that drawer… and the piece of faded blue card with his birth-weight and the time – blue for a boy.” Dearlove (last seen at NVT in Happy Now?) has a way of filling the in-the-round Studio space with undertones, agogic hesitations of grief, dropping words but distinctly. Masters’ return to stage has been spent with BLT, most recently in Shakespeare in Love.

Spencer’s not only worked with Wilson who’s entrusted this piece to her; she’s allowed Dearlove and Masters the space to develop nuances, nudges and silence for each character.

Dearlove’s register manages to be differently unpleasant; highlighting two resentful mothers which again begs motives for both Kathleen’s and Frank’s impetus for connection. June’s tones seem initially outraged, then Dearlove twists them: “The shame” riven with petty class phobias and innate dislike then drops back to Kathleen’s “The way she said it sounded like the plague”. And back: “How many weeks late?   Look at me; how many?”  Finally managing in the same breath both mother and 15-year-old with the most withering disavowal: “Dragging at your arm to turn you round, hurting.  You were never easy”- June’s lack of love in four words. “And now this.  This.  Fifteen years old.  Well you’re going to get rid of it, hear me, Kathleen?” Wilson’s insistent, nagging rhythms turn snags themselves in Dearlove’s delivery.

Masters’ Bill contrasts a doting father when June wouldn’t go (even then resentful) “we can’t afford it” to a musical performance. It’s the first moment the actors come into physical contact: never amorously, even with lovers, but tenderly. Spencer can direct intimacy as narrative.

But Masters manages hurt tenderness where June expects back-up. “So no. Being told wasn’t the worst part, Kathy. It’s this quiet that’s slid between us now like glass – thick. It wasn’t silence. There was no anger in it for silence. Just quiet.” Spare imagery’s more telling for how Masters hesitates Bill. As if he’s never conceived this way. Indeed he adds: “We shall have to live beside this”, wonders at his freakish perception.

Masters struts with a truculent register for Frank, cocky squaddie on leave. Rhythm’s faster, staccato harsher: “And didn’t I look the part?  Didn’t I just look the dog’s bollocks?  Forty-eight-hour pass, marching down Heath Street in my uniform… Nineteen. Home. Didn’t tell her I was coming, my Mum. A surprise. Not as big as the one she had for me though.”

The second mother Margie is brusquely defensive, less prissy than June, no false class: Dearlove conveys that difference.  “You’ll ‘ave to sleep downstairs”.  Masters adds – “The baby had my room”.   Dearlove Margie’s softens a notch: “Your little brother”, Frank’s skirling  “Half -brother” he doesn’t want to retort, but soften, but walks out to meet Kathleen by chance and – blink and you miss it – unwittingly starts a compensatory baby of his own. A family he never meets. Wilson’s economic with characters: we hardly see June, never Margie or Frank again.

But Wilson’s brilliance lies in conveying initial magic between Kathleen and Frank, brief ecstatic belonging as snow falls, then the disappointing rainy tryst next day they go through, differently disappointed in perfunctory sex. “There’s houses there now” brushes-in time, demographic shifts. Fank realises Kathleen’s possibly underage; they shrink. It contrasts the long-lasting love between another couple, juxtaposed here.

Pitching a different class couple can be easily contrasted, but never glibly. Vanessa’s flirty, hyper-articulate lecturer attracted to a music student “piano man” as their marriage and two miscarriages are telegraphed through quiet, silence, pinched words. Chemistry between Masters and Dearlove is no less affecting for being between people who know how to edge nuance; Wilson shades differently: “But what are we going to do, Tom?  No babies.  No babies, piano man.”

Masters’ Tom is equally affecting, his initial awe and rock-solid support conveyed when he rescues the traumatised Vanessa who stops in a half-sentence delivering a lecture, frozen when all have left.

It’s also in the precision of Wilson’s writing for a mathematics academic, spatial recognition sharp as her formulae: “Can feel it. There. Can almost touch it like a thread running and tugging between you both. Between you and that woman behind the door at the top of the stairs. As though at that very moment, at the very point of separation, its length and strength for the coming years were being tested.”

In contrast there’s urgency impelling Dearlove’s startling out of Vanessa’s imposter-syndrome adoption in hard breaths: “When?  When do I begin to feel all right?  When do I start to have permission?… Charlie’s mine, he’s mine now. Let go. Please, for Christ’s sake, let him go.”

The most underwritten part dramatically is Charlie, the final “You”. He’s highly competent, his writing conveys to Kathleen “the education they bought you” though Wilson backgrounds Charlie’s consciousness. It’s in his gentle choice of words, but it’s not him who lets us know but Vanessa:

“I know that one day…  you’ll ask me how I’d feel about you maybe trying to trace her: your birth mother… And, for my sake you’ll use the word ‘trace’, sensing that ‘search’ might sound too full of need; for my sake.”

Still, the play’s Kathleen’s, her heart-stopping word leading to a hush lasting a long time before the audience simply rises.

You’s Rialto production at the Rialto won a FringeReview award in 2015. No reason to change that verdict.