“Actor Anne Kane Howie makes a nicely detached Amanda, far from emotionless yet tightly controlled, the perfect match for her ambiguous role”
Part of November’s “Theatre Uncut” season, the one-off short play Amanda lends an important global political issue a distinctively Scottish spin. From a Holyrood office to a New Town retreat, we follow one woman’s progress through a perfectly ordinary day; a day that involves both struggle and compromise, sometimes with voices from her own past.
Wisely, given its twenty-minute duration, the story’s confined to a single scene and a single character – the titular Amanda. In the company of two narrators, we visit Amanda in a moment of quiet introspection, alone in the bathroom of her Georgian flat. Building such a short piece around such a low-key premise is a mature decision from playwright Kieran Hurley, but perhaps it’s a little too luxuriant; when all’s said and done, the piece develops slowly and ends with little territory explored.
Hurley does, however, deliver an elegantly subtle turnaround. At first, it seems we’re expected to dislike Amanda (rather unfairly, since her only obvious crimes are to sprinkle her bath with rose petals and enjoy the sound of posh voices on Radio 4). But later, we learn she’s a more complex character than she first appears; and perhaps, the script seems to suggest, our reactions to her need to be complex ones too.
Actor Anne Kane Howie makes a nicely detached Amanda, far from emotionless yet tightly controlled, the perfect match for her ambiguous role. Nick Cheales and Yvonne Paterson perform well as the dual narrators; they’re unobtrusive without being inconspicuous, and their deft handling of the props required to create Amanda’s bathroom speaks of meticulous rehearsal.
As always, director Andy Corelli works in some charmingly quirky motifs – right up to the curtain-call, where he remembers something I’d completely forgotten, that Amanda needs to step out of the bath. He also makes good use of the improvised space at the Kilderkin, proving that rooms behind a pub don’t have to be the exclusive preserve of stand-up comedy. There’s an incongruity to the setting that can’t quite be denied, but some clever scene-setting and an opportunistic use of the Christmas lights successfully evoke the essence of the elegant New Town.
Overall, the odd thing about Amanda is that it’s not an activist piece – or even an especially political one. You might choose to think that the title character has sold out her principles; but you might think she’s simply grown wiser as she’s grown up. The script presents some facts about her life yet your interpretation of those truths comes entirely from within. So is that an abdication of the playwright’s duty, or a valuable spark for debate? On that question also, you’ll have to make up your own mind.
Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 28 November)