Sparks***+ (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: November 16, 2015 in Theatre

sparksThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

After a 12-year absence, Jess turns up in pouring rain at her younger sister’s flat, carrying a goldfish bowl in her hands and a rucksack packed with alcoholic refreshments on her back. It is time for sparks to fly. Simon Longman’s play is is an exploration of loneliness in different guises. Jess (played at this performance by Sophie Steer) is a wanderer, roaming from east to west across the country, unable to settle anywhere. Her sister Sarah (Sally Hodgkiss) is rooted in their native West Midlands, with few friends and little life outside her sparsely-furnished flat. The two actors are playing these roles alternately. The awkwardness of the estranged sisters’ reunion is realised beautifully in Longman’s quirky dialogue. Sarah is at first rendered speechless, while Jess fills in all the silences as if struck by an attack of verbal diarrhoea, spouting nonsensical trivia almost non-stop. Gradually, alcohol removes inhibitions and the deep insecurities of the characters are revealed. Running for 95 minutes this is, in essence, a brisk one-act play, but Clive Judd’s production is performed with an interval, which causes the drama to lose some momentum. Early on, each sister downs a full bottle of what passes for wine in one go, a considerable feat by both actors, and, if the interval has been inserted as a kindness to them, perhaps it can be forgiven. The performances are strong, bringing out the absurdist humour in Longman’s script and capturing the underlying pathos of the two sisters. They are opposites who are both bound together and torn apart by blood ties and sisterly affection. It will be interesting to see if the dynamics in the sisters’ relationship change significantly when the actors’ roles are reversed. Bright, patterned wallpaper around Jemima Robinson’s set gives the flat the feel of a children’s play room, but the furnishings – a single armchair and stacks of up-turned cardboard boxes – reflect the emptiness of its inhabitant’s life; slats in Venetian blinds come to look like prison bars, confining Sarah to a world in which Jess could never be comfortable. Consistently amusing, yet underpinned by a feeling of melancholy, Longman’s play shows how holes in peoples’ lives can be filled temporarily by meaningless conversation and it builds to a moving and surprising climax. This is an engaging new work by a highly promising young writer.

Performance date: 12 November 2015



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