A few days ago I wrote about my minuscule part in The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, a play written as an allegory to the witch-huntery of communists and sympathisers in McCarthy’s America. A powerful play, when properly performed, thought provoking and disturbing.
Witch-hunting is nothing new. Rumour, the spread of gossip, the false reporting, conspiracy theories, fake news, if you will, have always been with us.
So when a woman who is released from prison and is given a new identity, in order to protect her from all of the above, suddenly discovers that her new acquaintances put two and two together to make five- or is it indeed four? – and finds herself embroiled in suspicion, hate, and also, unexpectedly, belief and trust, is it any wonder that she no longer knows who she really is?
And so it was in the play Evelyn, written by a brilliant new playwright Tom Ratcliffe. Based on the story of Maxine Carr, the unfortunate girlfriend of Ian Huntley, caretaker murderer of two school girls; she covered up for him by giving him a false alibi. (Why? Who knows?) When she was released from prison she was given a new identity. For her own protection.
We were warned that the play would be dark. What we did not know was what a magnificent piece of theatre it would be.
Sitting in the front row in the tiny Southwark Playhouse we were assailed by life size Punch and Judy figures who aggressively and balletically suggested the violent parallels and with contrasting folksy music warned us of the danger of media mongering.
The story was simple. Our heroine has found a room to rent within a sheltered accommodation facility. She arrives only to find out that her new flat is actually a shed being let out illegally by a slightly demented resident who has decided this is the best way to alleviate her loneliness. Played by Rula Lenska, said old lady persuades Evelyn /Sandra to stay. She plies her with affection and sets her up with a young man – the electrician. (Offue Okegbe – someone I would like to see more of)
Meanwhile the nurse, (the electrician’s sister, a separated mother of a small child- Yvette Boakye) has her suspicions, and loses no time making them known. A climactic moment, when her child goes missing and she believes It is the paying guest who had something to do with it.
In a moving scene the electrician chooses to believe Sandra is who she says she is. We don’t really know. It could all be a false premise. Or it could be true.
Interestingly, we were told after the play that the actress playing Evelyn (Nicola Harrison) was asked to decide for herself before the play opened which she was going to be. don’t know whether she changed her mind with each performance. On the day we saw it I believedshe actually was Evelyn and not just Sandra.
I don’t think it matters. What matters to me is that it was an excellent piece of theatre. Suspenseful, moving, exciting and .. theatrical. It used up a lot of my willing suspension of disbelief. It’s what I like. I dont go to the theatre to be harangued – and I’m afraid a lot of plays seem to do just that. So this was a very pleasant experience.
The cast all doubled as characters in the Punch and Judy sequences. The music was all played and sung and composed I believe by Michael Crean.
Do you like theatrical theatre?