Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Waitress, Ivy, explores the pain, hope and potential catastrophe that characterises the mechanics of everyday life, through the mind of someone suffering from mental illness.
This is an interesting piece of new writing – somewhere between verbatim and drama. Nikki Hill drew on her own teenage diaries and experience of depression to create the central character Ivy. She then worked with a group of actors to create the other characters around Ivy who contribute to her world. When Ivy addresses us directly the work is verbatim, from the diaries but the stories around her are the result of the devising process. Thus the piece is more than verbatim or the story of one person’s experience.
The cast of six are all dressed simply in black, with only Ivy wearing any colour, a shirt. This enables them to move in and out of several other parts each, occasionally adding an apron or a shawl. The set is also simple – three tall boxes that create the café bar or tables and smaller ones painted to be stools. The cast move them as needed to create the next scene and the action ebbs and flows around Ivy contributing nicely to the sense that we are seeing the world through her eyes. There were a couple of times when the moving distracted a little from a monologue moment and, if time permits, I would suggest just giving a little more space to those moments so that we don’t lose any of Ivy’s story as she talks directly to us.
The story, such as it is, is framed by Ivy’s reluctant participation in a support counselling group – ‘here because my mother thought it would be a good idea’ and her job as a waitress at the Stirred Café. The death of another member of staff triggers her depression to start spiralling out of control and she takes us on the journey of struggling to stay in control, to manage it, to wonder whether she even wants to. However, there are also lighter moments, especially in her relationship with her fellow café worker, Greg. The scenes in the café are witty and often laugh out loud in contrast to Ivy’s inner pain, providing a sense of pace and balance in dramatic terms as well as highlighting the tensions that she lives with on a day to day basis.
Ivy is thoroughly matter of fact and talks of her depression almost as one might of a physical illness, which is very refreshing in a world where there is still a tendency to think that depression is something one chooses, that can be shaken off if only we want to. She analyses her response to situations and recognises that she deals with the lack of sleep and the sense of worthlessness by adopting a tough exterior shell – ‘My version of OK is if I’m still breathing’.
Maddy Hardy’s performance as Ivy is natural and warm. She confides in us frankly and directly and is entirely believable in the character. The ensemble cast all move smoothly between their characters and create a good sense of the world around Ivy. Every character in her world is slightly heightened; some, such as her mother are almost caricatures (she apologises for this as she points out that her mother is probably not as difficult as she sees her) and the cast manage these well without overdoing it.
And there is no neat and tidy ending. This is a well written piece with a strong cast; one that will leave you wondering…