Writer: Adelle Stripe
Adaptor: Lisa Holdsworth
Director: Kash Arshad
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
Andrea Dunbar was known for writing the plays, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, The Arbor, and Shirley.Dunbar’s written plays about other people; now it’s time for a play to be written about her. This is a production by Freedom Studios. It is a work of fiction; it’s not the truth and exists within the realms of speculation.
We’re all invited to a knees-up at the local… The Beacon Pub. This is in Buttershaw, Bradford at Christmas 1990. Not surprisingly, Andrea Dunbar is here as well as her family, friends, and acquaintances through her raw recollections. For far too long the newspapers, the media, everyone, every man, has always told her story. Now, in just over an hour of stage traffic we’re asked to pin our lug holes back and experience the ugliness and the brilliance in all its fickleness.
Emily Spowage emphasises Andrea’s unapologetic honesty, fighting spirit, and deteriorating mental health. In some scenes, the littlest actions communicate so much. The opening scene, for example, doesn’t feature much dialogue but it’s atmospheric. From one extreme to another, Andrea’s fervent and fuming monologues are delivered impeccably by Spowage. As close to perfect as anyone can get. Younger Andrea is well portrayed by Lucy Hird with just the right blend of naivety and knowingness, as you probably would expect from a younger Dunbar. The play between the past and future Andrea is smart. Completing this all-woman cast are Claire Marie-Seddon, Balvinder Sopal, and Laura Lindsay. They multi-role with ease, each character complete with their own quirks. They provide lovely moments of comedy, such as the bit with the rib-tickling teachers.
Designer, Hannah Sibai has created a cosy and authentic looking pub. It somewhat looks like an extension of the circle bar behind the Studio theatre. It effectively compliments the nostalgic exploration of the past. A trip down memory lane, the end of the lane been Bradford during the 70s and 80s. The subtly of the lighting and sound design (Kielidh Whyte and Karen Lauke) effortlessly captures snapshots from Dunbar’s life: the terrifying and terrific flashbacks. It sounds like the sound comes from speakers at the back of the stage? Wherever the speakers are, they are effectively positioned and help to immerse us in the story and be exposed to “the voice of the North”.
If there’s one predominant notion in this play, it’s the notion of writing from the heart, writing what you know, and writing from a place of honesty. This makes the play’s unpacked themes all the more sensitive and relatable. Even though Dunbar became a successful writer, she was still living hand to mouth and was a single parent with a child. She wanted to eradicate the “la, di, dah” around theatre and confront audiences with the truth. This is what makes the play and her story inspiring, motivating, and meaningful. The sense of pride for the North, for Yorkshire, and her community shines through like a pearly white smile – there’s no black teeth here.
Reviewed on 27thJuly 2019 | Image: Contributed