Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Spine charts the surprisingly tender friendship between a ferocious, wise-cracking teenager and an elderly East End widow which blossoms over stolen library books. Mischievous activist pensioner Glenda is hell-bent on leaving a political legacy and saving Amy from the social scrapheap.
Spine, by Clara Brennan, charts a relationship between a disenfranchised and disillusioned teenager, Amy, and an elderly East End widow, Glenda. Glenda’s political leanings led her to steal hundreds of books from the local library as it was closed rather than see them destroyed. She wants to see a local library again and sees in Amy a potential, if unlikely ally.
Amy has answered a small ad to look at a room, having been thrown out of her own home, and finds herself drawn into Glenda’s world. A tender touching friendship develops between them and Amy continues to visit and ultimately stays with Glenda until her death a year or so later.
The stage is set to suggest rather than to represent Glenda’s house, in which her family have lived for 138 years. The books she stole from the library clearly occupy a great deal of the house. The action does not entirely take place in the house, but the power of the story means that does not matter; we simply ignore the bookshelves when we are clearly elsewhere.
Clara Brennan’s writing is punchy, well observed and gritty. We see the world clearly through the eyes of Amy and we identify with her as she struggles to find her place in her world. Glenda does not feel to be a fully rounded character; however we are seeing her through the eyes of a teenager who views her primarily as a fragile old woman. She finds it hard to see the militant in the doddery woman who is making tea for her so perhaps a character who sometimes feels two dimensional is understandable.
Rosie Wyatt as Amy explodes onto the stage and immediately captures the audience with the directness of her approach and the power and richness of her voice. She barely draws breath for the next sixty minutes. There is huge energy in her performance and the pace never flags. She adopts the different characters with ease using both her voice and physicality to convey the shifts.
Occasionally her rendition of Glenda presents the frail elderly woman as a little too strong given her age and the infirmities she refers to. A little more variation in tone and volume would help to differentiate the two key characters and bring Glenda a little more clearly to life.
There are unexpected twists and turns as the story develops ensuring that as the audience we are constantly surprised. For all the harshness of Amy’s life there is also a sense of hope, that community is important and that relationships are not only a good thing in theory but change lives.
Overall, this is a powerful piece of theatre performed with passion and energy by an outstanding actress.