DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Connection – Harrogate Theatre Studio

Writer: Rachael Halliwell

Director: Nathan Marsh

Set and Costume: Caitlin Mawhinney

Lighting: Charlotte Robinson

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Connection is described in the pre-publicity as “a Yorkshire Thelma and Louise”. This seems overstated to a degree. In place of heading off for Mexico on the run from the law over a shooting, Elaine and Catherine have some 20 minutes of stage time in Scarborough doing not a lot, then they are back at Harrogate District Hospital. Changes occur in their approach to life, but it is difficult to pin down what aspects of their adventure cause them.

Rachael Halliwell is an Associate Artist of Harrogate Theatre, an actor who has written several short plays. It is more than welcome that Harrogate Theatre should co-produce her first full-length play with her. The play is worthy, tackling, as the publicity says, “legacy, the role of carers, mental health and how we all need to ask for help at times.” However, the play lacks impact: does it tackle these issues or do people merely talk about them? 

The two halves of Connection, each of about 45 minutes, are very different. The first is a duologue across two North Yorkshire towns. Elaine, a professional carer, is sitting in Harrogate District Hospital with the ashes of the 93-year-old woman she was looking after, a relationship that appears to have been near-idyllic, when she is joined by the more middle-class, and much sourer, Catherine, ready to admit that she’s a self-centred bitch. 

They fall out constantly until they agree to go together to Scarborough where Elaine has to scatter the ashes on North Bay. By then backstories have emerged, notably Catherine’s resentment of her mother who always neglected her and whom she is now caring for in her dementia while the son, blue-eyed boy Steve, offers no help.

This first half has its interest. Some of Catherine’s description of the problems of dealing with dementia is vivid and graphic and at least one of Elaine’s revelations has the power to surprise. But nothing is really developed, especially the Scarborough scene where the two women’s breakout just consists of eating ice-cream and putting on silly hats.

The second half is quite different. Suddenly we have Steve in the hospital, wounded in a pub fight, impossibly inebriated, treating us to an extended drunk scene in which he imagines himself in Heaven – the derivation from Macbeth is clear, though there the Porter was modest – or realistic – enough to imagine himself in Hell. This is unreal, but has impact as virtually the only scene to offer physical activity – and Andrew Turner plays it very well. Emma Leah Gosling appears briefly to be slightly shocked as a priest called Yasmin and then the return of Catherine establishes understanding between her story and Steve’s, though not between their characters.  

Cathy Breeze (Elaine) and Rachael Halliwell (Catherine) carry the first half effectively as a well-balanced partnership, even though neither is particularly expressive. In the limited Studio space Caitlin Mawhinney and Charlotte Robinson deserve great credit for bringing the setting to life: the beautifully-painted hospital signs, with TO SCARBOROUGH in with the wards and clinics, are a smart touch.

Runs until October 5, 2019 | Image: Contributed 

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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