Folk was one of the kindest-hearted shows I’ve seen in my four years at St Andrews. It’s been a long time since I’ve left a theatre here with such a warm buzz in my heart, having laughed till I cried. From the cosy set design with every shelf dressed with perfectly messy bric-a-brac, to Joey Baker’s choice to have Joseph Kitching strumming on his guitar as the audience entered, I really felt like one of the motley crew welcomed into Winnie’s front room.
The play’s locus is Winnie’s sitting room, where we see three unlikely friendships form through a connection over folk music. The music really was a beautiful highlight of the show, with the actors each singing and playing newly-learnt instruments from the guitar, to whistles, to the spoons. Each actor had a talented signing voice, and after a somewhat shaky and unsupported start for all of them, they truly found their feet in the harmonies and experimental ornaments that give folk music its warm, comforting feel. In particular, the final song sung by all three of The Shenanigans was incredibly tight, with soft harmonies that came with ease and true joy that radiated throughout the space.
Another great facet of the show was its fantastically adept command of humour. I laughed more than I have at plays branded as ‘hilarious comedies’ thanks to Baker’s subtle direction, and in particular Molly Williams’ stand out delivery and manipulation of comic timing. Williams’ Winnie (though she maybe travelled a little from Belfast, to Cork, via RP England) was utterly charming and her presence lit up the stage every time she entered. Kitching’s Stephen most certainly had the fewest lines in the play, but his characterisation was so fully-formed that he could steal a moment with just a well-timed comic look. I only wish Baker and Ilena Livingston had ensured his hair was styled more off his face: since his acting tended to be directed at the ground and others’ feet, it was a shame that anyone further back than the second row (where I sat) would have missed the heart-warming intricacies of his performance. Heather Tiernan was strong and feisty as Kayleigh, and though her accent too travelled from the East end of London via Hull through to rural Scotland, she brought naivety and great energy to the role. Tiernan’s portrayal unfortunately did feel self-conscious and hyper-aware of the audience, which caused the illusion to be broken several times, as it seemed she was caught up in our reactions and in her head rather than in the scene. It must be noted however, that this production was Kitching and Tiernan’s debuts on the St Andrews stage, and I am sad I will not be able to see them undoubtedly flourish over their next three years here.
If the production had a draw-back, it was that the dramatic portions of the story were much less invested in, and felt – in contrast to the slickly-run energetic comedy – flat and under developed. This play deals with pretty hard-hitting themes, including teenage pregnancy, deaths of friends and loved ones, along with a (slightly bolted-on and contrived) coming out at the play’s denouement. It is therefore imperative that the dramatic aspects of the production have enough gravitas to carry such hard-hitting story lines, which unfortunately, here, they did not. Baker I feel did not spend quite enough time developing these areas with the actors, and as a result the play unfortunately lost its sparkle in these moments.
This being said I thoroughly enjoyed my night with The Shenanigans and found Baker’s production incredibly heart-warming and life-affirming. Williams, Tiernan and Kitching worked perfectly as the odd-ball trio, bringing great energy and humour to their characters and ensuring that the audience really felt part of the motley-crew.