Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Ross Dunsmore’s first full length play explores three pivotal stages of life, examining the gut-wrenching redefinition of self with which we struggle during puberty, parenthood and old age. Traverse’s Orla O’Loughlin directs a six person cast in three story threads: a teenage pair negotiating desire and chicken; a couple becoming parents; and elderly spouses physically and emotionally trapped. The smooth and functional set allows the touching, helpless and often claustrophobic tales to create the atmosphere.
Drama is conflict and the individuals within each couple display starkly contrasting needs. 14 year old Steph, played with fierce energy by Helen Mallon, is a feminist’s nightmare as she fights to be objectified by Ash (Cristian Ortega), whose protests that his favourite part of her body is her face are met with “Are you gay?” Ash’s school speech on junk food and his scoffing of chicken highlight the battles he’s fighting for self-acceptance, and I desperately wished they would give each other a break. Their story is an emotive critique of the way we teach girls and boys how to measure their own value, and the far reaching consequences of the lessons: Steph was the catalyst for destruction in more than one story line.
Her teacher Danny (Ryan Fletcher), himself scoffing junk food at insecure moments in a poignant reflection of young Ash, falls foul of her whilst his wife is at home trying and failing to feed their newborn son. A salvation of sorts is eventually found in one half of the older couple, whose delicate empathy with one another in the face of starvation was for me the most moving aspect of this production.
For me ‘Milk’ was about women, who I thought were the driving force of change in each narrative. May, played emotively by Ann Louise Ross, displayed such strength, such acceptance and such love – she propelled Cyril (Tam Dean Burn in this performance) towards the freedom he’d been struggling for, and Nicole (softly spoken and driven Melody Grove) allowed him to realise it. Perhaps the fact that a play about attempting to fulfil basic needs struck me as one about women, says something about us as mothers, caregivers, inspirations – roles we undertake sometimes by choice and sometimes without choice. In ‘Milk’ the men who view them as these things – who need them to be these things – show the simultaneous power and powerlessness of women trying to be themselves within definitions of idol, mother and wife. Although I must admit that I think an argument could be made for it being about men in a similar way…perhaps it’s just about humans.
The more I think about it the more the mirroring within each story line becomes apparent, and the more I appreciate the clever writing which made the audience stand, cry and cover their mouths in delight. To tell three stories in such depth takes time and I did find the play a little slow towards the ending – an ending with which felt too neat and circular. However I must be a cynic, as the girl next to me was balling at its beauty. When all is said and done Milk succeeds in doing what all drama sets out to do: show its audience a reflection, in some way, of themselves.