Browse reviews

Brighton Year-Round 2021


Brighton Little Theatre

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Brighton Little Theatre


Low Down

Written and directed by Ella Turk-Thompson, Movement Coach Patti Griffiths, Stage Manager Rosalind Caldwell, Set Design and Construction Rob Punter. Lighting and Sound Design Rob Punter and Beverley Grover, and Lighting and Sound Operation Rob Punter, Photography Miles Davies.

Special thanks to Mimi Goddard, Steven Adams, Neil Turk-Thompson


Ella Turk-Thompson is most familiar as an actor who always brings quality and assurance to a production. She’s a fine director too and recently exemplary and inventive music arranger on More Grimm Tales. I wish I’d seen her first play.

Steam her second enjoys its delayed premiere from last year, the title scaling up a world of intimate anger, flashpoints, letting off steam. Ellie Mason’s Sylvia a concert pianist returning home to her dying mother Anya (Abigail Smith), looked after by her sister a full-time Nurse. This is Kate Purnell’s Ray, who’s been left holding everything. It’s not been a long illness but Ray has shut down and resents Sylvia’s tripping in from Paris for a day before jetting off to her next round of concerts.

There’s more backstory emerging. The girls’ father was a musician too and like the recent Walden (featuring two NASA twin women pushed by their unforgiving astronaut father) he too wanted to push his children, or here at least Sylvia; never satisfied when she chooses Bach instead of a more complex Scriabin Etude or Sonata. The mix of favoured/not good enough haunts Sylvia even in success. Even her relationship to another concert pianist.

The conversation’s edgily warm, Sylvia never turning up when expected but late. And the only bond to bring anyone together, wine. Turk-Thompson has an exemplary grasp of dialogue and its pitch wholly naturalistic and believable. The caution in Ray, the feeling of being judged in sylvia, plays out. Sylvia refuses to be angry, to let Ray and her release whatever demons they share: but then she’s not the one resenting. Ray’s determined too Sylvia should stay. At least another night.

Mason puts across a mix of hopeless knowledge of Ray’s sacrifice with her own entitlement to be what her talent dictates, which she finds an apt, small hint of a head girl entitlement for. Mostly though Mason expresses her inability to intervene, to persuade Ray to plan a life after their mother passes.

Purnell’s Ray is more directly angry, yet more uptight, and Purnell’s given some dialogue ‘yeah… yeah’ that being American almost edges her back to her native accent. Purnell’s the powerhouse, the one who terraces resentment, choreographs grief, anger, and a sense she has nothing after, sucked dry of her future. Which is naturally untrue. But who’ll push that button?

Smith’s a fine mix of diffidence and doubting need, and the first choreographed scene allows us to see the inward emotions of holding on, letting go. Her relations with Ray are those of someone who knows she’s draining her daughter and Ray won’t let up Nurse mode. With Sylvia, she’s both admiring and brings an undertow of resentment, faint but recalling her husband’s scale of values.

The metaphor for this is Ray’s refusal to play Sylvia’s CD, despite Anya’s entreaties. We hear the opening several times till it’s turned off. It’s Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G major Op 32/5, a shimmering tremolando of Russian midsummer. The image of rapt sunshine contemplation is perhaps Sylvia’s ideal and irritates the hell out of Ray who has to wash a lot of people, not least Anya. But it’s a consolation that shouldn’t be denied Anya either.  The CD itself is festooned with images drawn by children. There’s a story there too.

When in the second act BLT stalwart Joseph Bentley bursts in as Ray’s friend Callum the paly acquires a different dimension; a different feel altogether arrives with him. Turk-Thompson’s cannily allowed him access as a Chinese meal is about to be consumed, indeed he’s mistaken for the delivery which comes straight after (when by now you wonder if this might turn into a dinner farce). As it happens it’s a glorious scene with real food. Bentley lights up Callum’s apparent dodginess (taking all the prawn crackers for himself whilst others are off), and then his crushingly real sincerity.

Turk-Thompson has given Callum an excellent rationale. Like everyone he fancied the knickers off Sylvia when they were young, which has a literal corollary. He befriended Sylvia partly to look into her sister’s drawers. But things change. Sylvia first demands Callum get out, but has to accommodate him. Then we realise the depth of love – friendship and much else, perhaps – between him and Ray. When the two are alone he advises Ray intensely in a disinterested friend-zone way; when she pushes back he confesses he feels totally inadequate. But he’s already told Ray what she needs.

This explosive mix affects the sisters differently, whilst Anya’s fading out of the picture. A final scene brings more complicated feelings, more recriminations, way more revelations, more entreaties. Some of the duets here are exquisite, almost Chekhovian.

Written and directed by Ella Turk-Thompson, there’s a vital series of entr’actes where in particular the work of movement coach Patti Griffiths scores. Rob Punter’s responsible for both set design and construction. A sitting room with sofa downstage and an armchair stage right while upstairs stage left there’s a dining table. A light-stand and other props punctuate the last two scenes. Lighting and sound design by Rob Punter and Beverley Grover brings us some remarkably atmospheric moments in the silent choreographed scenes, as well as a soundtrack mix of piano – Rachmaninov (mostly) and Faure Nocturnes – and pop: ‘Mad Woman’ and Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’. Lighting and Sound Operation this time is again undertaken by Rob Punter. Stage manager’s Rosalind Caldwell.

A short play at 105 minutes, with two acts ending on a diminuendo, one wonders if the journey’s over, what Turk-Thompson or life will do with these people. Turk-Thompson’s hinted outcomes, though we want to know a little more. The anger’s drawn out against a world where perhaps we might feel a backbeat of time, not just music or choreography, could add something. Such intensity feels for a slightly larger time-frame. There’s a grain in this play promising the transcendent. A bit like the Rachmaninov Prelude.