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Folk – The STUDIO, Birmingham REP

Writer: Tom Wells

Director:Tessa Walker

Reviewer: Mattie Bagnall

Tom Wells is at it again. His ability to write socially relevant plays such as Jumpers for Goalposts and Me, As A Penguin has earned him the reputation of being a leading figure in theatre’s new writing. His latest play Folk premieres at the Birmingham REP and is co-produced with Hull Truck Theatre – where Wells is an associate artist – and the Watford Palace Theatre where it will tour later in its run.

Folk is a heart-warming and insightful story of three people that Wells believes might not have otherwise been given a voice. Winnie, Stephen and Kayleigh are remarkable characters, all with different backgrounds and all with contrasting internal and external emotions. This play documents troubles that are highly relevant in society including unemployment, illness and neglect, and the hope to avoid or overcome these issues is portrayed in a brilliantly frosty and tense manner throughout.

Winnie is passionately Irish and dedicated to her life in the nunnery. Her seemingly positive outlook masks the troubles that she’s facing, a theme of secrecy that is common to all of the characters. Stephen visits Winnie regularly and during their traditional Friday night jig to classic Irish folk songs they are interrupted by a heart-rushing moment of vandalism by the disorientated Kayleigh. This forms the start of a long and unconventional relationship between the three that is based on a shared love of folk, passion, tension and trust all at once.

Wells does incredibly well to use such contrasting characters with different cultural backgrounds and put them together in an environment where they must adapt to one another while dealing with their personal situations. His use of comedy is outstanding, referring back to moments from decades ago as well as in modern times – such as phone apps and Beyoncé. Winnie’s relationship with Stephen on stage only adds to the comedy. The difference in energy and excitement between the two is clear to see with Stephen forced to reluctantly adhere to Winnie’s demands time and time again.

Patrick Bridgman as Stephen does very well as the subdued and quite rightly grumpy Stephen. His reactions to some of the ridiculous ideas and demands from Winnie and Kayleigh bring many moments of comedy as their clash of personalities is highlighted throughout.

Chloe Harris in the role of Kayleigh is excellent as she brings a generational shift to proceedings. Her outspoken attitude is balanced by her genuine affection for Winnie and Stephen which becomes all the more apparent as the play unfolds and their relationship strengthens. Harris regularly demonstrates her angelic singing voice which complements her acting.

The eccentric and passionate Winnie is performed by Connie Walker who is a delight to watch with her humorous dancing and spoon tapping to her favourite music. There is a real sense of openness and forgiveness to her character which Walker captures very well.

The production values are of a high quality. The set design by Bob Bailey is thoroughly detailed and well thought out. The features of the set allow the audience to witness a taste of Winnie’s home and experience her culture at the same time. The lighting and sound designs by Simon Bond and Clive Meldrum add to this experience with boisterous music and atmospheric lighting throughout.

Folk is another excellent piece of new writing by the acclaimed playwright Tom Wells. His skill to use imaginative and personable characters while using inspiration from his past roots is clear for all to see. With direction by Tessa Walker you have the chance to see this heart-warming play come to life.

Runs until 30 April 2016 | Image:Graeme Braidwood


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