Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Review: A Broken Rose

by Emma Ralph

Written by Sarah Goddard
Director Phil Willmott
Set/Costume Designer Emma Tompkins
Lighting Designer Tom Boucher
Original Music Composed by John-Paul Bowman
Casting Director Danielle Tarento
Produced by Five One Productions

Following the tragic tale of a young girl in search of adventure and truth, Five One Productions presents a powerful and harrowing new play from the pen of Sarah Goddard (currently Offie-nominated for Most Promising New Playwright). Surrounded by the harsh confines of her reality, Maria (played by Louisa Lytton) invents her own world to live in: a world of magic and beauty that is far preferable to her own. As the two worlds begin to blur together, Maria is left struggling in the wake, unable to grasp hold of either.”

I saw this production performed at Marylebone's Cockpit theatre on Sunday the 23rd September. Although it was performed in the round, I feel that the magical aesthetic was extended in the space because it was high enough to elicit golden tree branches hanging from the ceiling, curled and intwining with golden flowers. This clearly represented Maria's imagination completely contrasting the other set: a brown leather sofa, a 1970s wooden table with 4 chairs and a vase of pink flowers. As I walked in, already on stage was Maria sitting at the table, playing a 1970s puzzle. It is important to note that in the interval the position of the sofa and the dining table and chairs was switched so as to give each side of the audience a different view and to show the passage of time.

We meet our protagonist as soon as we walk into the theatre: a young girl, Maria (Louisa Lytton), seemingly of the present day, minding her own business and working on a puzzle. As the lights go down, she sings an eerie tune of a girl who lives in a land of diamonds and gold. As the lights turn orange, presumably to create this make-believe world (or so we think), a Hercules and Zeena pair of characters, clad in golden warrior -like costumes, enter the scene. They approach Maria and clamber on couches and tables, as she pleads to the male figure, whom she first addresses as ‘Daddy’, to tell her a story. The setting seems to be Maria’s modern-day living room, the only trace of the fantastical in the lighting and in the Narnia-esque branches hanging from the ceiling, posing as a chandelier. Upon the entrance of Maria’s mother (Nicola Wright), a neglectful alcoholic with a boisterous boyfriend (John Last), of whom we are immediately suspicious, the action becomes clearer. Maria has a miserable home life, her only friends these mystical beings, fairies, Moon (Chris Barley) and Sun (Amy Barnes) whom only she can see, who keep her company and tell her stories just as her absent father used to. As it turns out, the fairies have come to rescue her from her dire situation but, first, she must pass their tests.

Soon, what could have been a standard living-room drama about a damaged family becomes an engrossing tale of a young girl’s coping mechanism against the harsh realities of life: the welcoming escape of make-believe. Or is it? Maria doesn’t seem to think so, and, as the action progressed, I wanted to believe in fairies too. It creates two worlds of equal interest, blending the boundaries of fiction and reality so that even the audience does not really know what is what.

The play is carried impressively by Louisa Lytton (Maria); the feisty EastEnders actress is transformed on stage, acting convincingly as she validates her embryonic career. Playing a girl ten years younger than herself, she malleably embodies the role of a lost and extremely naïve teenager eager to please and protect her mother, only to be continuously opposed and undermined. Her character is strong but vulnerable, and her protectiveness towards her mother, who will not give her any attention, is very touching.

Maria’s psychiatrist (Nicholas Boulton), determined to fix their broken home, tries to combat the alcoholism, violence and delusions that run rife through the household. At the heart of each form of escapism lies the loneliness of each character as they battle against each other, rather than come together. This makes for an unsettling story, and very difficult acting at times. Maria’s mother is inebriated for much of the story, and actress Nicola Wright depicts the irritable, depressive victim of domestic abuse disturbingly at times.

A simple set in the round allows the intrigue and profundity of the stories to shine through, while an effective original score augments an intense and ever present melancholy that makes you want to save these continually plummeting characters yourself. By the show’s conclusion, the meaning of the title becomes painfully clear. Due to her mother's excessive drinking the child she carries is born 2 months premature and stillborn. Maria has been told by the fairies that the task is to take the child and give it to sun but as she tries to take the bloody towel over, Johnny tells her to put the child down; as Maria ignores him, he hits her over the head with a bottle and it smashes. Maria dies and the Fairies sing the land of the gold. The harsh ending to this show is not what you would expect and, while shockingly powerful, it isn’t quite clear that the show is over and leaves you having to put the final pieces together in your head.

A Broken Rose is not for children and covers some brutal topics, making it totally understandable why someone might want to believe that such a magical world exists.

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