Edinburgh Fringe 2012
In this extraordinarily mature piece of writing from a young writer (Jasmine Smart) three young women are attending a drama therapy group after being stood up at the altar. Strong performances in a confined space gradually reveal their deeper stories and make this show well worth seeking out.
Three young women are attending a drama therapy group after being stood up at the altar -gradually over the weeks and the activities their stories emerge. Each represents something of an archetype – one literally left at the altar with both families looking on, one ‘dumped by text’ and the third deserted for a younger model. They share their stories with varying degrees of reluctance, both supporting and challenging each other as the weeks and sessions pass. The drama therapist, Juno, has her own past to deal with as she holds the threads of the girl’s stories, providing encouragement, group activities and mugs of tea at critical moments.
The setting throughout is the room in which they attend therapy, each scene being part of one week’s session.
The space is small, too warm and slightly claustrophobic, we are almost part of the therapy group, but not quite – we are looking in. Close enough to feel the emotion swirling around us but not taking part. It is uncomfortable and it probably should be, given the stories we are hearing. It isn’t light but it isn’t oppressive either – there is a sense of the ebb and flow of intensity that would be happening in such a group.
There is no stage, merely a space surrounded on three sides by audience. That it is slightly too small merely serves to keep the action tight and maintain the tensions. The director has managed the shifts from week to week very simply with the adding or shedding of a top or cardigan, rearranging a chair, sitting in a different place. The only props are those that Juno brings for an activity – and the all important kettle and mugs for tea of course!
‘Panning for Gold’ comes from a young writer of extraordinary maturity (Jasmine Smart) who also plays one of the three girls (Ada). The writing is naturalistic but never over done and Smart gradually reveals the deeper stories of the three until we reach the source of the title in the final scene.
The performances of all four actors are strong and build well towards their final resolutions. There is humour and they support each other, there are also moments of incredible power – Robyn (Anna Gillingham-Sutton) challenging Shari (Charlee Lauren) held a raw anger that was breathtaking. Penny Lamport as Juno creates a very believable group leader; friendly, warm, a little motherly even but always able to step in to diffuse or to be firm. Their focus on their space both pulls us in and maintains the fourth wall, suggesting in this case the cofidentiality of the the therapy space.
I didn’t initially grasp the fact that this was a drama as opposed to a talking therapy group. It may have been there and I missed it and suggest that it might be one of those small but important facts that need a little subtle reinforcement to ensure that all of the audience have got the context.
This is an example of the increasing quantity and quality of drama to be found in the varied spaces of the free fringe. Overall, it is well written, well directed and well performed; a piece of drama that only gradually reveals its depth and range. It is well worth the walk to Broughton st to see – but make sure you arrive a little early and grab one of those stools at the front. Then just lose yourself in their stories.