Sunday, 5 November 2017

REVIEW: Trestle at the Southwark Playhouse


Trestle at Southwark Playhouse Little house is the world premiere of Stewart Pringle's 2017 Papatango new writing prize and it is easy to see why he won the award .His writing has a tender gentle charm , at times almost Pinteresque with its pauses and unsaid reflections, as it explores the developing relationship between Harry and Denise, both said to be in their sixties in a village hall in Yorkshire . It promises to ask how we choose to live in the face of soaring life expectancies and does so through twenty one episodic scenes.

It becomes a sort of Groundhog Day experience as each of the first twenty scenes explores the relationship at the weekly changeover of the Billingham Improvement Committee which Harry chairs and the middle aged Zumba class which Denise leads. We never meet the rest of committee or the class attendees and therefore the action is restricted to the five minutes or so between bookings and the removal of the trestle table used by the committee. But in each scene we learn a little more of their past and lives aside the village hall. 

Gary Lilburn plays Harry and beautifully portrays the hesitant uncertain approach to meeting a new person. His attitudes feel more of someone in their seventies today, rather than his sixties. Indeed some of it does mock the attitudes of the retired. 

Connie Walker is a strong counter point to him as Denise , the outwardly confident , young at heart Yorkshire lass, acting as if she is in her fifties. This gulf between them in attitude to love and retirement is summed up when Denise exasperatedly says to Harry ,"We're not here for ever, you have got to take a chance from time to time . Sometimes you have got to see something you want and grab hold of it."

The humour and frustrating negativity of his attitudes is summed up in the exchange:
Harry : I've things to be seeing to .
Denise : Wind farms to tear down?
Harry : Firebombing an orphan actually. Drowning some kittens.

The final twenty first scene is an odd and disappointingly conclusion, strangely out of place , implying she is moving on with her life, leaving her past behind her but it is not a satisfying conclusion. We have no idea what Harry has chosen to do with the rest of his life.

Pringles debut play shows real potential . The sort of piece that would have
worked well in a one hour play for today TV slot, where the frequent scene resets would have been eliminated and may be their two lives outside the village hall could have been shown diverging in the final scene.

Nevertheless director Cathal Cleary and designer Frankie Bradshaw effectively create the feel of Yorkshire village hall into which these two stumble on each other and successfully challenge us to consider how we respond to the opportunities of increasing life expectancy.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★
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