Jennifer Scott-Reid GODA
21 Seymour Street, Cambridge, CB1 3DH.
Written Adjudication – Barnet & District Drama Festival 2015
‘Remembrance’ by Graham Reid
performed by Belmont Theatre
Thursday 26th February 2015
A poignant, powerful play, a comedy/drama, set during ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, ‘Remembrance’ is perhaps Graham Reid’s most popular work. Graham Reid, himself from Belfast, wrote this play in the early eighties and directed the first production at the Lyric Theatre in his home city in 1984.
One father, one mother meet over the graves of their respective sons, murdered during ‘the Troubles’. The grieving parents become friends then fall in love, despite the protestations of their respective families, as one is Catholic and the other Protestant; the younger generation of both families being less forgiving about the subject of religious doctrines than the older ‘sixty’-somethings.
The mother in question, Theresa Donaghy, is Catholic who has two daughters and one murdered son whose grave she visits in the cemetery.
The father, Bert Andrew, is a son of an English soldier, and is himself an ex-soldier. A protestant and the father of two sons: Victor, a policeman and as such a "questioner" of "terrorists". The other, Sam, murdered by unknown Catholics is the much loved son who he visits at the graveside.
A play which is perfectly summed up at the end. Such a poignant and heart-breaking point made as Bert says to Theresa: "Married couples stay together for their children’s sake; we stay apart for our children’s sake."
One would assume ‘Remembrance’ could only be a drama, and in the hands of a lesser playwright that would probably be true, but Reid weaves his stories with witty lines and cleverly drawn situations that one would assume only involve the tragedy. Not this play, and not this playwright. He can even find humour in the fact that the two communities live so close to each other whilst fighting each other. 2 – © Jennifer Scott-Reid
Through all of this drama, conflict and humour, the playwright never takes sides; he doesn’t moralise - leaving us to enjoy this tremendous piece of theatre.
The multiple scenes and locations present a number of challenges to the director and design team and these were met with ingenuity. The multiple-location set was thoughtfully designed and worked extremely well.
The settings and furnishings enhanced the production very creatively. There was no doubt that we had been transported into the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland; and the era of conflict. The set was excellent; the audience walking into the auditorium with the complex set immediately on display, giving us the picture and continued lasting impression. The cemetery set elevated upstage centre dominated the stage, as it should, reminding us constantly of the price of the conflict. The back drop to the cemetery was wonderful; however, Joan states in Act Two that she wishes her brother could have been laid under a tree and with flowers; therefore wishing for a beautiful location for him to rest in. Maybe if the backdrop had been of tomb stones this could have added to the price this conflict took on the community, although the beauty of the cemetery contrasted well to the graffiti and barbed wire.
The protestant house of Bert and Victor set stage right was well dressed with an air of class; the comfortable sofa and chair, the drink’s cabinet, and the picture of the Queen. This was the home of an ex-military man, precise, looked after (especially the perfectly trimmed garden outside the French doors) but the homemaker fighting a losing battle with his untidy and troubled son – you could readily believe they had an inside toilet. This contrasted very well to the utilitarian Catholic house of Theresa and Joan, with their backyard and outside toilet. There was some wonderful attention to detail. For example, the brick wall outside Theresa’s window. Bleak, depressing with a forbidding sense of claustrophobia. The brasses looked good though not all were clean and I believe they would have been gleaming with Joan’s thoroughness. The Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall and, of course, the obligatory photo of the Pope correctly chosen to fit the time period of the piece.
The costumes on the whole were well chosen and the majority of characters looked absolutely in period and in clothes that echoed their characters, all transporting us back to the 1980s. There was a super difference drawn between the two sisters which was well reflected in the costumes worn by them. Flowing skirts or white shirt, black leggings and hair clips for Joan contrasting well with multi coloured tops and cropped trousers for Deirdre. 3 – © Jennifer Scott-Reid
The white wash covering Joan was wonderful and so appropriate. Pastels for Theresa - baby pink and powder blue. Victor looked wonderfully dishevelled on his entrance. You could practically smell the stale alcohol coming off him! Jenny’s costumes on the whole were very good and spot on for the period, although maybe the black and red jacket wasn’t appropriate wear for cleaning? Bert always looked very smart and every inch the ex-soldier in his waistcoat and tie. Again, his preciseness and discipline shone through.
Sound and Lighting
The opening of the play was extremely well directed and skilfully orchestrated. The music and news reel, together with the lit graffiti and barbed wire above the set, successfully conjured up the period and the mood of the play. The bird song needed to be faded in and out a little slower and was a little too loud at times. There was a problem this evening, with the voice overs coming in a scene too early.
The lighting was well-designed and worked effectively, and was intelligently zoned to depict different locations. The lighting changes which occurred through the window were particularly good.
Directed by Frankie Hogan
This production had a truly effective and evocative opening scene, establishing exactly where we were and which period of recent history we were in. The relationships between the characters were well established from the beginning.
There was a general uneasiness at the beginning of the play from the actors and cues needed to be picked up faster. This was mainly due to uncertainty of lines. The pace was generally good, at times the light and shade of the piece was teased out, however there was still more to be found within it. The moments when the cue bite was strong were at times beautifully played; and there were many fine moments in the production. So, how to get it this good throughout? Whilst the lines were pretty secure overall, prompts were taken and there were some hesitation and inaccuracies in the dialogue, with slight paraphrasing going on and the impact of this is that it is impossible for other actors to anticipate with accuracy, the end of the speech. The result is a reduction in cue bite. At times there needed more pace and energy into the faster exchanges to really hit the heights of this sort of naturalistic dialogue. The depths, therefore, by contrast, will be even deeper and you will have altogether a more powerful piece of drama on your hands. Nevertheless, when you hit the dramatic tension well the action was absorbing, drawing the audience in. Also when you hit some of the softer moments such as the gentle kiss between Bert and Theresa and then their break away for example. 4 – © Jennifer Scott-Reid
The performers gave sustained and engaging interpretations of their characters. There were some great arrangements on the stage and sensitive blocking. However, make sure that all cast leave the stage in character and with a purpose; don’t sneak off, especially when they can be seen. There were also times when the actors could have stayed on stage in the ‘dark’ ready and in position for their next scene; especially when the next scene was the same day. There was some distracting movement when there needn’t have been.
There was some good ensemble playing, however, the cast need to make every gesture and movement mean as much as possible. When an actor moves, there has to be a purpose for the move otherwise it looks staged and can draw away from the tension or emotions needed at the time. Equally, think about when the emotion would lead an actor to move. For example, the argument between Victor and Bert. This is an important moment in the play, and one where we, as the audience, discover the true meaning behind Victor’s sadness and anger towards his father. On this occasion, we lost some of the impact with Victor staying in his seated position on the sofa – he probably would get up to ‘fight’ his dad. Also Victor and Deirdre pointed out front to show where their brothers were buried, and then went off US; either change the direction of where they are buried or break the fourth wall and have the actors exit through the auditorium or to the side.
A great deal of work had been done on achieving and maintaining the accent and on the whole these were excellent.
Bert – Bernard Vick
This was a sustained characterisation and the actor captured the genial nature of the character. He possessed a nice demeanour. The actor gave a well measured and sincere performance. His care and concern for Theresa shone throughout the play and one could see the heartbreak when he talked of his son.
Victor – Peter Mahon
This actor established his character well. He is not a ‘bad’ man, he is a troubled man and you portrayed this well. The actor had many fine moments and he had a strong stage presence. He played with an emotional intensity and captured the essence of Victor, portraying his growing turmoil and fragility. This actor looked good and gave a good character study let down slightly by tripping over the flow of his lines. He looked the part and at times his menacing and manipulation were spot on. 5 – © Jennifer Scott-Reid
Theresa – Mary Woolf
This actress played with truth and sensitivity. She understood the text, and brought out the light and shade when needed. She also showed a natural ease with her character which appeared effortless. She gave an extremely fine characterisation, one with warmth, and one which firmly established the character of Theresa. This was an actress who held the audience’s attention well. The text at times was made personal as if true expression of thoughts with a fresh delivery full of vitality and colour. Her emotional life was full of truth and contrasts.
Joan – Lorna Alder
This actress had great facial expressions, and some good reactions to her mother and sister. She portrayed the vulnerability of the character well. This actress looked good and this was a well sustained characterisation. Her accent wasn’t always consistent, and at times she needed more variance in movement and gesture, however, she had some wonderful facial expressions.
Deirdre – Judi Campion
This actress was a lovely contrast to her ‘sister’. She had great physicality, animated gestures and wonderful facial expressions. She had great stage presence, excellent accent and, at times, drove the pace of the piece. A little hesitant on lines in Act One, however, she grew into this character in a pleasing way. She gave an engaging performance and understood the character completely. She was excellent at trying to manipulate her mother, and at getting angry with her – spitting her prejudice in such a believable way. Her flirting skills were second to none when she saw the chance to ‘throw her cap’ at Victor in the cemetery.
Jenny – Kim Wedler
This was a nicely ‘ordinary’ and believable characterisation and a very necessary contrast to the other characters. This actress established her relationships with Bert and Victor extremely well and gave a natural and underplayed performance. This may have been a slightly smaller part than the others but an extremely important one nonetheless, and this actress gave commitment and understanding to the role. She was confident and solid on lines. 6 – © Jennifer Scott-Reid
It was an absolute delight to see this powerful drama. The excellent set successfully evoked the period and left us in no doubt that we had been transported back in time to ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. The playwright doesn’t make it easy for the cast to maintain a strong pace with his frequent cross-cutting between locations, but this ensemble coped well with the demands of the writing. There was good ensemble playing, a little uneasiness on lines which did affect the pace and shaping of the piece, however the production achieved a positive response from the audience.
Overall it was an absorbing piece of theatre. The groundwork was done by the director and cast with the commitment to learn the accent and be true to the geography of the piece so often overlooked.
Congratulations, Belmont Theatre!