Sunday, 13 January 2013

Pilgrims - review

Written by: Ed Theakston (@EdTheakston)

Etcetera Theatre, London

Pilgrims is a new play written by Sarah Page, a graduate of the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme and a current member of their Studio Writers Group. Sadly, this play suffers from feeling somewhat overwrought and underdeveloped.

The play is set in the living room of a family home somewhere in the Midlands, on the day Pope Benedict is due to deliver an address in Hyde Park. It opens with Ruth, the fraught single mother of two, desperately trying to get her children and elderly father in the car. When teenage daughter Beth eventually emerges from her bedroom, up late and still not dressed, she sparks a stream of arguments and revelations that could entirely change the family dynamic.

There are some very touching moments in this piece. A particular stand out performance comes from Henry Gilbert as mummy’s boy Will, who is both captivating and endearing from his first entrance. He portrays his character’s OCD with sensitivity, and his devotion to his mother is charming to watch. Dinarte Gouveia also impresses as Beth’s handsome secret boyfriend, Jay, who speaks in a mix of teenage and hippy cliché to great comic effect, while Stephanie Hyam brings tremendous energy to the stage as the difficult daughter Beth.

Sarah Page has created some truly recognisable moments and characters in this piece. The dynamic between brother and sister is shrewdly written, and Gilbert and Hyam tenderly play the shifts in the relationship. Liz Mance has some good moments as Ruth, a mother at the end of her tether, but unfortunately for most of the play she feels a little one-note and isn’t given time to connect with the audience before her tiresome tirade of maternal anxiety flows onto the stage. From the opening she is tense, stressed and shouting, and there is little let up from this for at least the first two thirds of the play.

There is a complete shift in tone however, and the play swings towards the farcical when Ruth finally loses it. Mance has tremendous stamina, but sadly this shift feels contrived. Although psychologically justifiable, unfortunately it is sprung on the audience and on the characters without sufficient support from the play that has preceded it. Grandfather Harold, played by Nick Simons, has also not been given much room to find depth, as there is limited development in his character, despite the massive surprise he brings.

This is a low-rent production, where no set or lighting designer has been credited in the programme. Director Kevin Williams deserves due credit for making this piece so enjoyable, though unfortunately one leaves the theatre feeling somewhat battered. That can be an appropriate feeling in some cases, but in this it overshadows the oftentimes insightful comments Page’s writing makes about religion in modern Britain.

Despite being somewhat clunky, Page’s writing shows great potential. Pilgrims perhaps overstretches itself in what it tries to discuss in an hour, but the domestic drama at the centre of the piece is perceptively crafted. 

This production was part of the PNPA Festival which runs throughout January. 

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