IT’S a bit of a drive (65 miles there and back) to Bath, and, facing dire warnings of blizzards and tarmac ice rinks, the lure of the Elevate Festival offerings had to be honed down to one event in the 15 days of pop-up performances.
If Frome-based Really Truly Theatre Company’s Lockdown Blues was anything to go by, city residents and those within easy striking distance are experiencing an exceptional treat.
Frome councillor Polly Lamb’s play demonstrates her extraordinary perception and humanity, expressed with humour and poignant empathy by six brilliant actors.
It was performed at the 2022 Frome Festival, where the stage was long and narrow and each actor was socially-distanced from the others on a personal dais. At Bath, where the festival is held in the Theatre Royal’s 1805 rooms, the acting area is tiny, the audience very close and there’s no possibility of rehearsing on site, so director Polly Lamb decided on one “throne” centre stage and stools at the side, allowing for a procession of performers, each with her turn in the limelight.
The six women are Danni (Rosie Allerhand), a former Debenhams employee forced to turn to telephone sex to pay the bills, Eileen (Suzy Howlett), a retired teacher entering dementia with a keen eye for a bargain and little concern about its provenance, Jeanette (Jane Flanagan) a nurse and pregnant single mother of two, Sally (Sue Ross), a lonely widow who turns lockdown to her social advantage, Penny (Juanita Carney), a lonely village wife ignored by her adored son and pestered by her newly-working-from-home husband taking refuge in the bottle, and Tash (Daisy Mercedes) a newly-out university student forced back home to her uncomprehending parents and eager to shake up the village’s complacency.
Each of them has about ten minutes to paint a picture of themselves and their lives, and does so with perfect balance, creating powerfully convincing characters, non-judgementally. The audience laughs, gasps and holds back the tears as their stories unfold. Polly Lamb’s point-perfect dialogue subtly links their stories without any feeling of forced community.
This was a memorable evening, one with touches of Alan Bennett in the skill of its writing and astonishingly intimate versatility from the actors.
Having six women on stage telling their stories is a bit of thing these days – Six, the Henry VIII musical, has gone from Edinburgh Fringe romp to conquering the world on what seem like endlessly sell-out tours and The Regina Monologues was performed by Frome Drama back in 2017.
Polly Lamb has written another six-woman show, Celebrate Me, for performances in June at the Merlin in Frome and the Rondo in Bath.