The play centres around three women in a small Yorkshire community, all coping with scars left by the same man, the almost inhumanly vicious Royce. Dealing with themes of abuse, family, and innocence, it is mostly in monologue, with characters storytelling directly to the audience throughout almost the entire show. The script, written by Richard Cameron, is a gauntlet of intense, emotionally draining vignettes that touch on every element of abuse. This is exemplified in turn by the three characters: Ruby (Eleanor Burke) lives in the shadow of Royce’s emotionalabuse, Jodie (Annabel Steele) is haunted by the memory of his psychological torture, and Lynette (Jen Grace) attempts to cope with his threats of constant physical violence. If one thing about this play is obvious, it is that these three actors deliver tour-de-force performances.
Grace and Burke are well known talents on the St Andrews stage, but still manage to surprise with a level of intensity and emotional honesty that was almost unbelievable. Steele gives a similarly remarkable turn, no less brilliant, but all the more impressive as she is the cast’s only fresher. The emotional intelligence and fundamental stamina required for a play like this is massive, but the cast of three made it look easy. It should not be understated – these were three of the best performers I have seen in St Andrews, all in one hour-and-a-half emotional sledgehammer to the abdomen.
Direction – in the hands of Helena Jacques-Morton – was equally sharp. Every moment and movement was crafted with the utmost care, and with impeccable attention to detail. And yet, beyond this, she gave her performers enough space to let the play feel organic; to rise and fall, pitch and yaw with remarkable dynamism. Jacques-Morton should also be applauded for picking a show perfectly suited to the small, often inadequate Barron Theatre. This may seem like a small thing, but so often, the Barron can get in the way of a show. Here, it served as a perfect canvas, unnoticed, and only enhancing and highlighting the exceptional performances.
I have only two substantive criticisms to contribute. The first is mostly script-oriented. Such a grim, depressing script would be well-served by more frequent, noticeable moments of levity. Obviously there is nothing funny about abuse, and moments of humour and hope were sprinkled throughout, but these seemed to get lost in the darkness. Such darkness can be better justified to the viewer with more significant moments of levity; indeed, humour in the face of hopelessness is a natural, human reaction that makes an audience more invested when the going gets really tough. The second is, to my mind, much more glaring. Specifically, ambient music was overused in the show to a huge extent; indeed, it was almost constant throughout, eliminating virtually any opportunity for silence throughout the play.
These flaws, however, did not stop this play from being an exception to the rule of student drama. Jacques-Morton, her team, and especially her cast should be commended on what would not have felt out of place at a professional theatre.