It is the privilege of the writer to eavesdrop. Not just on what characters say, but on what goes on inside their heads. In his new play Peter Gill does just that, listening in on the worries, hopes and fears of eight very different women on one spring morning in London. It’s compassionate and delicately orchestrated and in places quite brilliant on the way the mind skitters from one worry to another. But its static nature, lack of interaction and determined elusiveness gradually slow it down, until, by the end, staying with it becomes a real effort of concentration, not just for the audience but even for the cast (who stumble over lines more than you would expect).
Perched on a row of chairs, as if in a waiting room somewhere (as women, particularly those with children or elderly relatives, often find themselves), the women barely move. Instead, the focus moves among them, alighting on first one, then another as we listen in on their memories and worries. It’s separated into short sections — like a piece of music — with each passage involving a combination of the voices. What emerges is that although they differ in age, ethnicity and social class, they have many common concerns — principally to do with troubling relatives — and similar regrets about lost happiness or missed opportunities. And hovering over the whole piece are the questions implied in the title, to do with progress and nostalgia.
But the fragmented, evasive nature of the piece begins to grate. As we flit back and forth between the women’s lives we lose track of who is who in their monologues, and we never find out where they are heading, whether it is significant or, indeed, whether they are all heading for the same place. This becomes irritating, rather than elusive. And they never seem to think much about work, politics, art, sport, literature or any of the many other issues besides the domestic that preoccupy women.
In Gill’s production the fine cast define their characters touchingly — particularly Tessa Bell-Briggs as a lonely widower and Roberta Taylor as a hard-pressed working-class Londoner — but the lack of movement and interaction becomes frustrating, as does the fact that they have to sit, like statues, waiting for their turn to speak. For all its sympathy, this ultimately becomes a strangely sterile piece of theatre and not up there with Gill’s best.
To May 23, the-print-room.org
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