“I’m not having babies; I’m not getting married”
Purple Coat productions returned to Liverpool’s Lantern Theatre this week with two complementary works playing alternate nights. Harold Pinter’s Caretaker had played the night before (when I was unable to attend) and to contrast with this classic for three male actors, director Karl Falconer chose Charlotte Keatley’s piece for four women.
Kayley Joy Black has cunningly designed a set that, with a little furniture rearrangement and dressing can double for both plays. In this case it begins with a draped upright piano to one side – obligatory as the text requires Margaret to hide under it at the beginning of the second scene. An arrangement of chairs and other objects move about as the scenes progress, and the piano is replaced by an office desk after an interval. To the front of the stage is a pile of earth that serves as a garden and also hints toward the opening setting of the wasteground.
It is on this wasteground that we first meet all four characters, here all played as children, with the oldest of the characters here appearing as the youngest child. From time to time through the action these childhood scenes return, but for most of the play the four actors play a family that spans four generations, although condensed into three. Doris has a daughter Margaret, a granddaughter Jackie and a great granddaughter Rosie. However, Rosie was born to an unmarried Jackie, and so Margaret brings her up as though she were her own. So it is that Rosie grows up believing that her mother is her big sister.
Among these complex relationships and the interleaved childhood scenes the play explores the effects on the four characters of the choices they make and the circumstances they find themselves in. Often funny, frequently poignant, the text also speaks occasionally of the impact of wartime, something that is creeping out of a lot of the theatrical woodwork this year with the 1914 centenary. Jackie as a child complains to her mother, while they hide under the piano, that her friends have a proper Anderson shelter.
Falconer has assembled a strong cast and directs with a deftness of touch that makes both adults and children believable, despite the awkwardness of the way Charlotte Keatley’s narrative pulls us back and forth across the decades with little help from the text to signpost where and when we are.
Doris, Margaret, Jackie and Rosie were played by Caitlin Clough, Jackie Jones, Rhea Little and Jessica Olwyn.
It was great to see a pretty good house in the Lantern, especially for the Sunday evening of a bank holiday weekend. The Lantern is fairly unusual in occasionally bucking the traditional theatrical convention of closing on Sundays. It is always worth keeping a beady eye on their schedules as most shows, like this one, are here just for one or two performances.