Sea and Land and Sky, Tron Theatre, 20/10/10
Rule number one of theatre going: go. If you don’t, you might miss a gem
Of course, the flip side of that is that you may have to sift through a few pebbles first, and unfortunately this is an experience of that ilk. There’s no denying the power of the subject matter – volunteer nurses on the WW1 battlefield – but unfortunately the drama does little with its potentially fascinating characters.
First, there are too many storylines. Ailsa the matricidal working class girl, Millicent the bonking toff, Lily the mad widow; each in their own right might tell a story worthy of a play (my money would be on Lily’s) but together none are explored deeply enough for us to have any great empathy with them. This isn’t helped by them speaking in odd, fractured images, and occasionally the words are pretty much overegged. Talking of a gun pointed at her by the rather creepy John, Lily says:
“It’s just a piece of metal: it’s not a crying child. It doesn’t scare me the way a crying child scares me. That’s what you don’t know about us, the women out here, doing what we do in the middle of this war: the only thing that scares us is a crying child”
Stated once, the idea is neat and effective; twice is perhaps a little clumsy: three times, and I’m liable to say, “I get it already!” There are also some quite clumsy, gauche lines, such as
“I’ll build you a home… That way I can put love in the rafters.”
All in all, the dialogue comes across as somewhat obtuse – the characters rarely seem to really speak to each other – which has the unsettling effect of a play that is aiming for realism and hyper-realism at the same time in a stylistic tug of war.
The play also relies on more and more implausible images to create any sort of emotional engagement. I would love to have had some sympathy for Ailsa, but she goes apeshit so speedily we never get to know what she was like before the madness strikes, and all that is left is the sight of her, apron stained in gore, cuddling dead bodies and dragging a cart laden with them across the stage, her howling amplified and distorted to uncomfortable levels. If the effect is to create the impression of a demented Mother Courage, it’s a bit of a blunderbuss approach.
Abigail Docherty is obviously an up and coming playwright, with many theatre and film credits to her name. However, this play just didn’t work for me by a long way. It is based on the diaries of real women on the Front, and I can’t help feeling that if they had been allowed to tell their stories, it would have been much more engaging and poignant, without all the explosions and flashing lights and hysteria. It should have been an emotionally exhausting experience: in reality, it was a bit intellectually irritating.