” … questions about the alternative lives we all could have led, and whether it’s so very wrong to seek solace in them”
In an old folks’ home somewhere in Jamaica, two elderly women squabble over the room they’re forced to share. Myrtle is fussy, inflexible, used to getting her way; Cynthia likes to please, but quickly turns prickly when she’s pushed too far. Myrtle’s the type who knows everyone else’s business, while Cynthia has a secret or two she’d really rather hide. The two have been sharing the room for three days now … and yet, they’ve only just got round to learning each other’s names.
It sounds like the set-up for a sit-com, and there are indeed some delicate moments of humour in this softly-spoken production. But as soon becomes clear, the bickering’s not quite as inconsequential as it seems: there’s a tragedy, perhaps two tragedies, developing before our eyes. It’s something we can easily imagine happening to people we love. It’s something which, one, day, might happen to ourselves.
Anni Domingo is striking as the newcomer Cynthia, deftly introducing the almost-imperceptible moments of confusion which hint at a weakness in her ageing mind. Later, when she starts to flash a child-like smile, it’s hard to know whether to feel deepest sorrow or purest joy. Cleo Sylvestre, meanwhile, perfectly embodies a character we all think we recognise – cantankerous and obstructive, yet soft and tender inside her shell. But the young-looking actors don’t quite capture the physical decay implied by the script; there are some stiff joints, admittedly, but the true bone-weariness we’re told they feel never quite comes through.
There are some interesting ideas in Amba Chevannes’ script: questions about the alternative lives we all could have led, and whether it’s so very wrong to seek solace in them. There are terrifying insights, too, into the future that might await us, and the possibility that the one thing we hold most precious might be stolen away.
And in a year when Scotland has its eyes turned inward, it’s refreshing to see the Traverse stage a play that’s set in Jamaica. The women’s shared patois is challenging at first, but soon develops into a well-judged point of interest – an insight into life that’s an ocean away, yet very much the same as our own.
Ultimately, though, the script leaves too much unexplained or unexplored. At times it feels like there’s a missing scene; at one point, an inconceivably terrible wrong is forgiven and forgotten in the blink of an eye. And the brief epilogue, though poignant, returns to the generic – doing little to crystallise or resolve the tumult that’s gone before.
It’s a shame, because this is a play which speaks of personal experience, and it feels like Chevannes has an elusive message she’s hoping we might hear. But still, there’s plenty to ponder. And perhaps it’s appropriate – when the play’s so much about lying – that it isn’t too specific about what we’re meant to believe.
Reviewer:Richard Stamp (Seen 15 April)
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