Writer: Sue Healy
Director: Tricia Thorns
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The English seaside may seem a long way from London, it may be nostalgic, often cold and still emerging from years of depression and under-investment, but it inhabitants have the same aspirations, drives and needs as their metropolitan counterparts. Sue Healy’s new play Imaginationship is all about broken dreams and limited opportunities, where unrequited love is more destructive than the battering sea.
40 years on, Ginnie Atkins has arranged a nostalgia night at the local nightclub to celebrate the summer of 1976 and a chance to catch-up with best friend Brenda. But Brenda, now in her late 50s, has only one thing on her mind, adding to her extensive conquests with an attractive young man while trying to stop her 39-year old daughter Melody mooning over her classics tutor Tony. As a boozy night draws to a close, long-held passions are unleashed and hearts broken irrevocably.
Healy’s play successfully creates several characters who virtually spring from the page fully formed, and whose stories the audience can care about. Chief among them is Brenda, sex-obsessed on the verge of 60 whose straight-talking approach cuts through the play, dismissing other characters’ romanticised notions of her. Similarly, daughter Melody is on the surface the exact opposite, emotionally fragile and repressed, obsessed with the one man she can’t have. But Healy wants us to see the similarities between them, that despite themselves, they share a strength, a force and an attraction for others which they cannot control.
There is also an interesting inter-generational angle to the play which considers the relative prudishness of the young compared to the teenagers of the 1970s, preferring relationships over casual sex as their parents did. This seriousness about having love with meaning and purpose, revealed through Melody’s obsessive attraction to Tony is something that could be further explored – how Melody’s relationship with Brenda affects the kind of love she seeks from Tony should be a central aspect of the play.
However, Imaginationship fails to focus properly on this relationship and suffers from an over-elaborate story, too many themes and lots of extraneous sub-plots that detract from Healy’s central message. It covers so many topics it’s hard to know what Healy really wants to say; is it about imagined love, fear of loneliness, nostalgia for youth, the regions versus London, Brexit, immigration, comparisons with Greek mythology or the markers of intelligence? Slimming this down to one or two key points would give this 90-minute show greater focus.
And having worked so hard to create character depth, Healy loses faith in her creations, drawing the strands together with a soapy and unforeseen conclusion that feels lazy and unjustified. Her characters deserve something more fitting that emerges directly from their conversations rather than a random act shoe-horned in to create a convenient ending.
Patience Tomlinson captures all of Brenda’s fun-loving, unconventional mannerisms, a woman who has spent a life-time in pursuit of her own pleasure and unwilling to fit into anyone else’s idea of conventionality. Likewise, Joanna Bending’s Melody is prepared to go beyond the acceptable to get the man she wants, and Bending creates a woman desperate and agitated by her own projected desire, unable to behave as she should.
Jilly Bond’s Ginnie is equally fraught, although her story and the late confrontation with Brenda could be more awkward and tragic, and there is a nice role for Rupert Wickham as manipulative lecturer Tony who draws Melody to him, craves her devotion but constantly refuses to enter into a relationship with her.
Healy’s play has strong characters with plenty of life in them, and a seaside setting that reinforces the clash of past and future, a world and people emerging from years of neglect and abandonment. But Tricia Thorns’ stilted direction fails to build the tension sufficiently for the conclusion to be convincing. Brenda is the key to the bringing the various strands together and Imaginationship needs to forget the shocks twists and focus on the emotional effects of loving someone who won’t be loved.
Runs until 23 January, 2018 | Image: Contributed