Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"When dowdy Pauline is talked into a canal boat holiday all she wants is a quiet time with no surprises." This is a new solo play by Kate Saffin from Alarum Theatre,which takes us on a journey on a canal boat, into painful memory and resolution.
Finding Libby, written and performed by Kate Saffin (who brought Now is the Winter to the Fringe a couple of years back) is a tenderly written and performed solo play. The play is set on a canal boat hotel, as a life, past and present, is exposed and explored.
I liked the simplicity of the set that shows how some well chosen and focused ideas can create a believable space. And it is this simplicity that is a great virtue of the core idea for the play as well: Meet Pauline – meek, timid, self-deprecating, set in her ways, avoiding the memories which threaten to surface through the flowing waters of Time. Pauline addresses us directly and shares the intimacy of her throughts, feelings and small cabin on board a canal boat on a holiday she has reluctantly been persuaded to take.
Many lines in this play are gems in themselves – little micro-chunks of humour or observation. Pauline is a pre-Internet type, hiding from the world, keeping her head down, as she was always brought up to do. Yet what is also priceless is Saffin’s performance – naturalistic, painfully funny, poised and throughly on top of the material.
This is a window into a life usually lived behind a window usually closed to outside scrutiny and gaze. For an hour Kate Saffin has opened it for us and invited us to peer in. We are addressed directly in an acted monologue, a story told and shown. A holiday on a boat small enough for uncomfortable vicinity, for seeing the details, And each detail adds to a developing rich picture.
Saffin portrays Pauline with fluent ease, from the very first moment. We come to know Pauline, to smile with her and share regret and even cry with her. (There were plenty of real tears in the audience). The writing is crisp and Saffin has a dry humour as a writer. Pauline is prim and this primness is the outward expression of a bird who has not used her wings in a very long time. And, ironically, this holiday on a canal boat is a possible place to spread them. That’s the genius of the play, and the cleverness in the writing. Pauline’s lack of self belief snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, talking her little victories down in order to avoid the risk of a repeated disappointment.
Some moments in the piece feel a little too muted. The energy dips a little too much and then there’s a confusion between Libby’s own suppressed life and memories, and the slightly muffled feel of the performance. I think that inconsistency needs resolving but it’s a fairly small quibble in a play that oozes wit, maturity and is rooted in a very fine character portayal.
This is a repressed soul and yet Saffin provides a hugely charismatic portrayal of Pauline. Banbury has changed, but has Pauline ? And can she change? This is also a play of revelation and the unravelling of a story. This is done with terrific timing and the script builds beautifully as more of the story unfolds. It is a layered script, a textured piece of writing.
This is what the real fringe is all about. A finely crafted piece of writing, affecting and delightfully performed. Pain and regret at the heart of humour and reflection, set on a hotel boat, on an ever-flowing canal.
Very impressive work, deeply moving and highly recommended.