South Western, The Wardrobe Ensemble at Bristol Tobacco Factory

“A LITTLE of both, guv’ner, a little of both,” was Alfred P Doolittle’s reply in Pygmalion when asked if he was an honest man or a rogue.

Take that idea on a little and the reply to what this play is trying to illustrate would give you not two but several answers.  Tenuously they are all to be found in the history and makeup of the people who have, and do, inhabit the south west of the United Kingdom.

Taken down to its bare bones this is the story of a young woman, Mae, trawling through the west country in search of the man who killed her beloved father when she was just eight years of age. En route she finds herself frustratingly spending the night in jail, escaping with Anne, an independent older woman at war with practically all of mankind, who proves to be the most loyal of friends and finally gives her life in defence of Mae.

When at last Mae comes face to face with her father’s killer she has to question all her lifelong beliefs and the story ends with no final decision being made.

In that respect the play is typical of one which has been devised and written by the company as a whole – as this has. So many themes, in several styles of presentation,  are explored, but few are followed through to a definite conclusion. In the main with Ben Vardy – as a visiting American professor and student of media studies – guiding us, we watch the action as if eavesdropping on the making of a film.

The style in which the tale develops varies from Grand Guignol, via symbolic, to outright vocal and physical farce, which, with Helena Middleton’s Mae and Jesse Meadows’ Anne standing firm as the realistic ‘straight men,’ the remainder of the company threw themselves into with glorious abandon. They were aided in these efforts, which deservedly drew a ready response from the audience, by the freewheeling approach of director Tom Brennan who let his cast run on a long loose rein.

Music, composed and performed by Tom Crosley-Thorne, Ben Grant’s sound and Matthew Graham’s lighting design played an important part in creating the right atmosphere for each fast-changing scene. In our imagination we were transported via bus, train, and arduous long walks through the wonderful Somerset, Devon and Cornish countryside, with the mood of the story changing as swiftly from the reality of violent death to the broadest of comedy.

During the interval this South Western link was continued with the splendid Bayou Tapestry folk group gaining new fans with their renditions of songs from the South West of Louisiana.

As you left the theatre there was a board inviting you to comment on the play. Perhaps naturally, there was nothing but complimentary notes penned there – Great Fun, Fantastic, The Essence of Theatre, Awesome and So Cool. I did not quite have the courage to add “very enjoyable but at times rather confusing.”


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