Friday, 8 September 2017
Review Seven Letters
by Rian Flatley
A Song at Twilight
A nostalgic play, Seven Letters comes from the pen of writer/director Rian Flatley, focussing on the memories and twilight lives of women care home residents with chequered pasts.
While the stories fulfil well-worn stereotypes and it feels like a one-act play stretched into two acts, it is lifted from the stereotypical by some charmingly simple but effective original songs woven into the plot.
Faye is a well-travelled lively hippy chick Irish pensioner. Tempie is a staid, middle class matronly Home Counties' sort, keen on her crossword puzzles.
Frail Lena has a multilingual past with a tragic incident cruelly snatching away her chance of lasting happiness. American born Hannah is, she says, in for short term respite care but increasingly losing her mind and a grasp of what is going on.
They are cared for by chavvy, but good hearted young Summer who is willing to sit down and chat to them about her life outside the home.
The seven-women play is structured as a series of monologues and flashbacks linked by group scenes where past and current lives are discussed and chirpy Summer serves tea, ginger snaps and feeds them snippets of information.
In its own past, Seven Letters has been made into a short film. Indeed the way scenes are shaped appears more suited to a screenplay than the trajectory of theatre with a few of the audience at the interval unsure whether it was the end of the play or an interval.
Nevertheless there are some pleasing performances, chiefly Teresa Jennings as feisty Faye, Kate Winder's patient and courteous Lena and Linny Bushy's crafty but vague Hannah with sweet-voiced Charlotte Reynolds as young songbird Faye.
Claire Gollop is starchy Tempie while Alice Taylor plays good-time girl care assistant Summer.
However this is still a work in progess. The characters are hampered by some heavy-handed dialogue and there is need of dramaturgy to realise the full potential of the music and give point as to why Faye is the only woman with a younger self on stage.
An outside director might also bring in more nuance and, for instance, allow the group chatter to overlap, varying the rhythm of the conversation, rather than having a pause after each character speaks.
While not a musical, there certainly is also potential for experiment in the weaving together of song, drama and spoken lines slipping into the rhythm of music or into song.
But there needs to be a sharper focus on character development and the merging and diverging of fantasy and reality.
The care home scenario is a staple of new writing. However, there is always scope for a refreshing and tweaking of the genre. This play really has something in its use of the original compositions of musical director Lindsay Bridgewater who accompanies on keyboards and also at one point participates wittily in the action.
Seven Letters runs until Saturday September 9 at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham and will have another four-day run at the Hampton Hill Theatre from January 17 next year.
It is overlong and rather clunky and over literal and one wishes sometimes for a more modern interpretation of old age.
However, given more development, it could through both spoken and sung scenes become something much more. There's potential for structural music and spoken word innnovation with a juxtaposition of poignancy, sentimentality alongside a harder edge. It's an amber light.