POLLY Lamb burst onto the Frome theatre scene during the Covid outbreak, creating entertaining monologues about women’s lives during the isolated times, and then combining them into a show called Lockdown Blues, which sold out at the 2022 Frome Festival and went on to thrill audiences at Bath Theatre Royal’s pop-up festival in late February.
As soon as that show was over, the members of the company she created, Really Truly Theatre, headed straight into rehearsal for Celebrate Me, another all-female six hander, but this time about one family. With a keen eye on the anecdotes, the secrets, the humour and the stresses that accompany most family gatherings, she set this story in the run-up to the 92nd birthday of Barbara, who lives with her daughter Laura and grand-daughter Sophie, not far from Laura’s sister Michelle and her teenager, Paige.
As the birthday approaches, Barbara and Sophie discover they not only looked startlingly alike as young women, but also have a shared, and hidden, experience.
The clever construction of the play allows Daisy Mercedes, who plays both Sophie and Young Barbara, to explore the changes in family and career expectations and societal reaction over a period of more than 60 years, as well as the unchanging pressures that accompany family life. The structure allows the audience to travel back to the office workplace of the 1950s – and how times have changed!
Both acts of the play open at a party in a pub, with tellingly hilarious vignettes of introductions, interactions and pick-up lines as the night gets later and the booze flows freely.
Then it’s into Laura’s home to see how the generations balance and jar, and how long-held grievances have cemented into dogged moans and disappointments. This is territory explored by several other plays, notably The Memory of Water, but Polly Lamb brings a new vitality and realism, and her excellent cast makes each character a recognisable and memorable member of a family that some might call dysfunctional, but many would regard as normal in the 2020s.
Suzy Howlett’s Barbara is everyone’s idea of a dear old granny, but her early life has had its share of anguish. Juanita Carney is the care-worn, put-upon Laura, a woman who revels in her dependable misery, and Sophie (Daisy Mercedes) has had enough of the moaning. Sister Michelle (Tracey Ashford) is all about chakras and herbal teas and a life-in-balance, but her relationship with the spiky Paige (Tabitha Lamb) is anything but. The one non-family member is Naomi in the present day and Nancy in the 50s, and played with tender humour by Rosie Allerhand.
Celebrate Me should be snapped up by theatre companies around the country, providing six excellent and carefully developed roles for women and a great deal of thought-provoking entertainment for audiences.