Kicking off the On The Rocks festival was the drama Bitter Root written by our very own Joanna Alpern, performed in the Barron Theatre. In my opinion, student written plays are always the most interesting and raw to view and Bitter Root offered the audience a mature and touching piece of theatre. In the director’s notes, Joanna highlights that the play was a reaction to both Mike Leigh’s Grief and the ignorance shown to those families who suffer the loss of someone through suicide. A difficult subject to tackle, yet Alpern allows the themes of flowers and of joy and grief to be shown through all theatrical elements.
My first response when walking into the theatre was the smell of lilies and this stuck with me throughout the performance – a kind of subliminal reminder of the grief that is held present throughout. The beginning scene executed the foundations of the relationship between Laura (Cara Mahoney) and John (Graham Richardson) and the actors naturally created a chemistry of restraint and yet tenderness for one another that lay underneath the happiness. It was the silences and the absence of speech that really highlighted the quality of time both Cara and Graham had put into creating this natural and flowing relationship between one another – congratulations. This relationship was needed as a stark and yet welcoming contrast to the other characters. Although slightly obvious in the role choices (and costume choices), Mrs Wallo, Rachel, Richard, Paul and adorable Lily offered a light hearted relief that made the play relatable.
A particular favourite scene was the exchange between Paul and John when they have come in from drinking. The sheer change in atmosphere from the ‘comic’ start to the tense and saddening ending had every audience member wondering and immersed in the feeling of this couple and their story. This led beautifully on to the last scene which, as well as making me cry, had such a subtle inspiring and hopeful tone to it and this is something that is often omitted from plays surrounding grief and death. A special mention I think has to go to Graham Richardson, who allowed himself to fully become lost in the need to rekindle the love of his wife.
Suicide and the coping of loss is a subject of immense sensitivity and yet Alpern allowed her play to develop through natural dialogue, subtle hints of uncertainty and never over-dramatizing reactions, or emotions. The cast took on board this difficult subject and produced a performance that held laughs as well as painful truths, and that is something they should be immensely proud of.
Images courtesy of Ben Anderson and Mermaids Production of Bitter Root.