Sunnymead Court – Arcola Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: Gemma Lawrence

Director: James Hillier

Short and sharp, Gemma Lawrence’s beautifully romantic play leaves us aching for the days of connection without appointment.

Locked away during the early days of 2020’s pandemic, copywriter Marie starts to reflect the silly corporate content she’s employed to write. Marie, and the world around her, are “transitioning from human experience to digital experience”, giving her an excuse to sink more deeply into her safe and solo routines and cosseted isolation. Across the street, on the same floor but in the neighbouring block of flats, Stella lives with her ventilator-dependent elderly mother. Still desperate to get out into the world, she notices Marie and her weird habits as she scuttles through her day.

Through matched routines and little signals, these two sync up almost impossibly from across the divide. Lawrence gives us a gently intimate on-stage verbal dance with both sides’ reactions, thoughts, impressions, desires and fears discussed – separate but joined. With the two on stage, constantly moving fluidly around each other, the contrast between the physical and the audible is powerful. The tension built up around whether they will get to actually meet is delicious. Lawrence herself plays Marie, as the introverted and awkward writer, with great charm and sets her off well with the more bombastic and extravagant Stella, played by Sasha Frost.

As well as being a fairly straightforwardly structured romantic story there’s a heavy dose of philosophy here too. Poetically, the characters explore ideas of control over their bodies and lives as well as how our innermost thoughts and feelings can impact our physical reality. Heady stuff, presented in an accessible way. Perhaps there’s not such a great exploration here, but it’s intellectually challenging and gripping enough to satisfy.

The three key components (romantic story, philosophising about our physical existence, the on-stage interplay between the two) are cradled in a simple stage set-up. Bare walls and minimal props (two chairs and some Soleros) are the visual backdrop that enhances the rich audio experience from Max Pappenheim which ably tells the story of life in tower blocks itself.

It’s overall quite a refreshing look at last year’s lockdown. It recognises the toughness of it but gives equal weight to some positive experiences that were possible. Our shared experience of isolation, frustration, discovery, longing and concern is reflected back in a neat little package. At around 50 minutes, it really is small, but it’s mighty.

Runs until 4 July 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Beautifully romantic

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