‘Bobby’s dead and you’re still breathing. That’s a fucking walking talking tragedy that is.’Hayley Squires’ first play was written for the Royal Court (Jerwood Upstairs) and premiered in March 2012 as part of the Young Writers Festival.
Whilst the play focused topically on a family who had lost one of their number in the conflict in Afghanistan, the themes it explores could apply to the fallout from any war in any era. Although director Chantell Walker didn’t plan the performance for this reason, it sits well among the canon of work that is appearing in this WWI centenary year. In her programme note she says she fell in love with the piece for its true grit and honesty and for the pain and hope it displays.
Pain and hope are in abundance in the text, and in the truly gritty and honest delivery from her team of actors. The writing is uncompromising but above all it is believable and sharply observed and the young cast, drawn mostly from Liverpool John Moores University, have clearly got under the skin of their characters.
Bobby has been killed in war and brought home to be buried. The narrative switches back and forth between the immediate time of the funeral, set in the family home, and on a park bench some months later, which is where we begin.
Mother is an invisible presence who doesn’t attend the funeral – she can’t face it and is sedated upstairs - while Bobby’s brother and sister prepare themselves. Danny rebukes Emily for being over made-up and underdressed, but she just wanted to look right in case she gets interviewed by the press. Family rivalries emerge and we begin to learn of the jealousies and hatred that lie just beneath the surface. Bobby’s best friend Lee tries to pour oil on the waters but soon becomes embroiled in the argument.
Matt Tyler as Danny towers above the rest in stature and is a brooding presence on stage. This is the most one-dimensional character in the writing, having very little in the way of redeeming characteristics, but Tyler carries it off well. His sister Emily is a better written role, and Jade Thomson makes the most of the twists and turns, having us lose patience with her one moment and sympathise the next. Robert Moore is superb as Lee. Bobby’s mate wants to keep the peace on this of all days but he is angry too, and he won’t allow Danny to blacken his friend’s memory.
It is in the alternating scenes interwoven between all this that we find redemption in an unlikely place. Two of the most compelling performances in the production are from Cristina Carter as Charlie and Rory Kelly as Sam. Cristina is Bobby’s cousin and looks back on the day of the funeral in her mind as she revises Romeo and Juliet for an exam. She has unresolved questions about it all, including the absence of her aunt at the funeral and the upsetting things Bobby’s brother and sister have said. Her saviour comes in the shape of Sam, soon to be her boyfriend if they ever get around to it. She is terrified that he will get hurt in a fight, not realising at first that he is fighting for her honour – echoes of Sam’s description of the Romeo and Juliet plot, which he condenses with flair from the movie version. There are some really tender scenes on and around this park bench, which Carter and Kelly play rather beautifully. There might be some doubts remaining in her mind over her cousin’s bravery, but she has found her hero.
And who, I hear you cry, is Vera? The answer is in the songs from the forces’ sweetheart of an earlier war that link the scenes together.
Rough and Ready Theatre was formed earlier this year by a group of Liverpool JMU graduates. They have plans for their next work in the autumn and you can find them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/roughandreadytc and Twitter: @RoughandReadyTC
|Cover illustration from the Methuen play text for Vera Vera Vera|