fri 19/07/2019

Shutters, Park Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Shutters, Park Theatre

Shutters, Park Theatre

Three striking American plays provide insight into female experience

In a women's world: Joanna Kirkland and Yolanda Kettle in ShuttersSkirmantas Petraitis

It's a woman’s world at Park Theatre, where an all-female company tackles three American shorts that place the private feminine experience under a microscope. Jack Thorpe Baker’s casting yields mixed results, emphasising the shrewd analysis of gendered thought in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Philip Dawkins’s Cast of Characters (both half an hour), though Brooke Allen’s 50-minute study of grief, The Deer, already suffers from character opacity. The Deer is markedly less incisive, providing the evening with a somewhat muted conclusion.

Cast of Characters offers dizzying formal experimentation, telling its story through a group of actors reading the character list for a play we never see. We’re afforded glimpses of scenes through witty recitations of biographies and voiceover production notes from an overly intrusive playwright (Lolly Susi), determined to clarify the significance of her creative decisions. Dawkins’s piece works thrillingly on two levels: an insightful exploration of psychology and family dynamics, the stark, matter-of-fact delivery is far more moving than the melodramatic play being summarised; and a head-spinning, meta-theatrical in-joke that examines the tension between authorial intent and interpretation.

The cast moves fluidly between numerous roles, anchored by Matilda Thorpe’s Marie, a writer indulging in thinly veiled autobiographical stories. Nicola Blackman is strong as her intensely independent sister Liz; Lucia McAnespie convinces equally as mother Bernice and Marie’s husband John; and Yolanda Kettle is scene-stealing as catty sister Vicky, whose passive-aggressive putdowns are layered with the pain of personal disappointment. Beverley Longhurst doesn’t do enough with taciturn brother Frank, and both the ambient soundscape and recurring "pose-for-photograph" trope irritate, but the complex web of familial bonds is delivered with furious energy. (Pictured right: Lucia McAnespie and Yolanda Kettle)

The Deer is similarly ambitious, though lacks Dawkins’s crisp focus. Allen drew on personal experience of loss for this story of untimely death, which lends the play a bruising authenticity. But perhaps more distance was needed to assemble its parts into an effective whole. A non-linear, soapy narrative battles with dreamscapes, bizarre musical interludes, and frantic intercutting, while characters remain frustratingly distanced.

McAnespie does well to make restless college dropout Russ engaging, but his troubled mental state remains a mystery; Kettle is compelling as motor-mouthed sister Clara, whose self-definition depends on her carer; Joanna Kirkland grates as a chirruping, cod-philosophiser; and Longhurst seems inhibited as college professor John. Baker, who has a distinguished dance background, adds some effective physical work, but it’s just one element competing with many.

Rediscovered gem Trifles, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Glaspell in 1916, impresses in its skilful crafting of a thriller and its pioneering feminist ideas. Glaspell based the play on a murder case she covered in Iowa while working as a reporter, where a man was strangled in his bed with a piece of rope. Suspicion falls on his wife (a haunting Kettle), and while a condescending male attorney (an excellent McAnespie) searches for evidence, the sheriff’s wife and his neighbour (impassioned Blackman and Kirkland respectively) quietly piece together the story. Glaspell’s language is beautifully evocative, constructing a life with patience and precision, carefully unfolding the tragedy that has occurred behind closed doors. She makes a strong case for vital female connection and community – a sentiment as relevant today as it was a century ago.

Glaspell’s language is beautifully evocative, constructing a life with patience and precision

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters