Writer: Jenny Davis
Director: Anton Phillips
Reviewer: Julia Beasley
This is no-frills theatre at its most economical, a play reading without a set and only minimal props. As director Anton Phillips explains to the audience in his introduction, the props give just a gist of what the play is about, you have to fill in the blanks yourselves. In fact, the emphasis is on the script, which is literally held in the hands of the actors throughout the performance.
The Front Room by Jenny Davis is one of Missing Pieces, a series of monthly play readings showcasing Black British, African and Caribbean writers. Staged at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol’s Old Market, its cultural references appeal to anyone with a half a sense of humour.
This particular front room is situated in a traditional Caribbean home complete with Christian icons, plastic flowers and the ‘shrine‘ of the sideboard. Used only for best, the room comes to symbolise the repressive and claustrophobic relationship between a mother and her youngest daughter, the only one of four children to have remained at home.
It might not sound like any laughing matter, but EastEnders’ Ellen Thomas steals the show with her brilliant comic portrayal of Ina, the domineering Black matriarch who raised her children rigidly on the Bible and the ‘belt’. An advocate of ‘tough love’, she rails hilariously against Satan, sex (‘the nastiness’) and the council.
The oppressed daughter Alecia (played by Kamesha Francis) fantasizes in private about college, career and romantic love. Meanwhile, Ina’s lamentations and her stubborn refusal to deal with the practicalities of life (such as the leaking roof) have the audience whooping with laughter.
But things take a darker turn when a visitor arrives. It is not Ina’s prodigal son Marcus, the object of her yearnings. A white stranger at the door inveigles his way devilishly into the family. He ends up uncovering a truth at the heart of this bossy, Bible-bashing mother that is far darker and more tragic than her naïve daughter could ever have imagined.
The Wardrobe Theatre provides a rough intimacy that suits the unvarnished style of this play reading. It is a pity, though, that by looking constantly at their scripts, the actors have very little eye contact with each other, even in the most dramatic, revelatory moments. Their apparent lack of familiarity with the script makes for an occasionally clunky, if often hilarious, performance.
Reviewed on 3 September 2017 | Image: Contributed