Fresh from their run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August (where they were declared runner up for the Scottish Arts Club Theatre Award), last Thursday Joanna Bowman and Sonder Theatre brought their production of Delay Detach home to St Andrews for one night only. Written by former St Andrews student Joanna Alpern, the play tells the story of a friendship between two women, Caitlin (Amy Chubb) and Sophie (Cara Mahoney), focusing on how Caitlin’s borderline personality disorder affects their relationship across the course of their lives.
The play’s structure, skipping backwards and forwards through the pair’s lives, effectively keeps the tension going, forcing us to piece together the jigsaw of their timeline. The story is set against a very simple stage, with two black boxes on a few raised platforms forming the performance space. Whilst not particularly visually striking, it is effective in keeping the focus where it should be – on the actors and the story they’re telling. The tech, too, while not complex, did its job very well. Simple clicks and light changes signified scene transitions and helped to keep the play’s individual moments clear.
It is this structure, which forces Chubb and Mahoney to play the two characters at every age from five to seventy, that provides the play with its most entertaining and moving parts in equal measure. Both Amy Chubb as Caitlin and Cara Mahoney as Sophie, handle these age changes convincingly: as 5 year olds they wax out the humour from Alpern’s script, without overplaying it to the point of irritation. This nuance carries over into the rest of the play – where the character of Sophie may have been overwhelmed by that of Caitlin’s, the interplay between Chubb’s exuberance and Mahoney’s gentle sarcastic humour ensures that this is certainly not the case. The show’s final scene, with Sophie (suffering from dementia) and Caitlin now 70, moved many to tears. Confused about where she is, the year, and even the names of her children, Mahoney gives a spectacular performance in these last few moments, as Sophie finally loses control and allows herself to rely on another person in the play’s most powerful moment, as the dynamic between the two characters is turned on its head.
My only real criticism is that I was not entirely convinced that the character of Caitlin really was struggling with BPD; if it had not been for her friend looking up ways to behave around somebody with this condition it might not even have occurred to me. Her reactions could have been pushed just a little further at certain points to make it clear that this woman is living with a mental health problem, rather than just being unpredictable and inclined to dramatic reactions. This would have made both characters more sympathetic, the tension coming from watching two women fighting this illness together, instead of from the collision of two extreme personalities .
Overall, Delay Detach was a very enjoyable production and well up to the standard one would expect from Joanna Bowman and Sonder Theatre. While not as visually interesting as some of Bowman’s previous shows, it was extremely well executed on all sides, and provided an evening of laughter and tears, leaving all of us with something to think about.