Browse reviews

(Brighton &) Hove Grown 2018


The Maydays Studio, Hove Grown Festival

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

Venue: The Maydays Studio, Hove Grown Festival


Low Down

The Maydays Studio provided a simple stage and the performance was recorded with the dramatist involved in the production of various recorded effects like seagulls, as well as directing. March 31st.


Roz Scott’s debut play is being performed in Hove Grown, and subsequent on this performance it’s undergoing further rewrites. Scott herself directs. The Maydays Studio provided a simple stage and the performance was recorded with the dramatist involved in the production of various recorded effects like seagulls.


It’s an ambitious debut, dealing head-on with mental distress, alienation, a bleached narrative that hollows out conventional happenings: merely scolloped indents at the edges of the eponymous Maria’s brain.


It’s what clinical depression is like. Malignant Sadness as the psychiatrist Lewis Wolpert described it, from the inside. Here’s an excerpt to show what we’re dealing with, even if Maria’s isn’t so extreme:


It was the worst experience of my life. More terrible even than watching my wife die of cancer. I am ashamed to admit that my depression felt worse than her death but it is true. I was in a state that bears no resemblance to anything I had experienced before. It was not just feeling very low, depressed in the commonly used sense of the word. I was seriously ill. I was totally self-involved, negative and thought about suicide most of the time.


Maria’s synopsis is evocatively straightforward, a narrative-based work. ‘Maria is an insider’s look at mental illness. It explores the cold isolation that emerges from deep in a depressed person’s soul and the glass doors that spring up all around. Everyone wants to help but no-one can.’


This is chillingly accurate. Maria starts with a saving of the protagonist’s life in busy Piccadilly, from a heavy truck – by a man with alarmingly heavy tattoos (helpfully supplied by the actor here).


Maria is narrated sympathetically though the play needs to integrate the narrator with Maria’s persona; and perhaps her mother’s voice too. To have five actors in a short piece lasting less than thirty minutes is a luxury. If Maria, the protagonist might own some of the narrative, as in several monologues for women currently taking London by storm (for instance Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys at the Royal Court performed by Carey Mulligan) it’s possible for Maria to step out and perform her own agency. There are other areas where an extension of roles – and a key conversation between the two sisters in this work is surely missing – might create an arc and release of dramatic tension.


After the initial incident, which could be acted without narrative, we then revert to familiar territory: familial incomprehension sufferers will know well. Here it’s Maria’s marriage that propels her to this. ‘The everyday dismissiveness, the arrogance, point scoring, the slow, relentless drip,’ though sometimes depression doesn’t have obvious triggers, which Maria explores with insistent, lapping evocation. Indeed we end near the shore. The gentle colloquies with Maria’s mother, counterpoints can-do sister Karen, unintentionally a living reproof of coping.


The third scene with snappier sibling/parent dialogue is more engaging: shorter lines, less exposition needed. One wonders if such narrative interludes are necessary. Karen and their mother Libby now engage in the one dialogue where Maria’s not present. Although it shifts us from Maria’s envelope, this works as welcome relief, a normative dialogue where ‘normality’ as such is tested.


There’s a couple of evocative moments; Scott should certainly concentrate on her lyrically descriptive gifts, though this might be realized more energetically.


When asked: “How are you?” Maria sometimes answers simply: “Yes. I am here.” She feels plain and very, very small, very ordinary.


Narrator: Maria remembers lyrics by Jane Gilbert, a Scottish singer songwriter: “He has taken away the sun,” her world is washed in grey like a February sky.


After another colloquy with her mother and sister Maria encounters John on a Lowestoft beach. He’s the man who saved her life in London, has moved here. It’s an affirmative but inconclusive long walk, open-ended. In this latest version his backstory as a policeman whose best friend was killed in a stabbing adds credible detail and as it were a terrible pointed topicality – as well as affirming the exodus from London isn’t all financially based. Many come to Brighton and the surrounding areas for an attempt at leading tranquil but meaningful lives.


But Maria ‘feels for the first time that there is a life beyond, as well as behind.’

Beka Amy portrays Maria with a muted raptness, with less to do than perhaps should be the case, but this is all a work in progress. Libby the mother is taken by Sue Stevens. The role of Libby’s pivotal since Maria and Karen both enjoy conversations with her, hence Stevens is required to pitch tonal difference and sympathy. It’s the the key to inflecting what might be static tableaux with the animate anxieties of parenting, the fraught jockeying for favour that gently but unmistakably underpins Karen’s character.


Here, Stevens quietly, firmly etches the anxious slightly guilt-ridden mother whose best lines are expressed to the apparently sunny Karen, full of tropic storms and sunshine. Sophie Methuen- Taylor’s Karen brings a sudden third dimension. The sparkiest conversation too is Libby’s and Karen’s discussing Maria. Karen could lead more solid down-to-earth discussions, empathic and occasionally bewildered. Methuen-Taylor coaxes out the mildly infuriated side of sister-who-can. It grounds a real woman in a real place.  Narrator Fiona Salter is quietly authoritative, a fine story teller. Tristan Wolfe is a gentle, firm giant as John too.


Maria’s a potentially important work in embryo about depression. This play’s evolving with real potential. It needs work, extension if four actors are to be involved, and some more risk-taking. Scott can let go of over-explanations, some of the clunkier words, trust to images and sheer story-telling. She has a finely-grounded tone with an acuity of insight and a lyrically-charged gift that literally pictures the un-nameable pearl-grey blanket of depression occluding Maria’s living. Like the spectrums she invokes, these are telling enough. It’s emerging as a confident debut of a theme where all confidence is shredded.