Sunday, 28 March 2021

REVIEW: Trestle, presented by the Maltings Theatre in St Albans

The Director Matthew Parker was due to stage this play at the Maltings Theatre in November 2020 but Covid 19 delayed it so that it became this streamed version from the venue. Like him, I saw Trestle at Southwark Playhouse in its world premiere in November 2017 and enjoyed Stewart Pringle's play which won the Papatango new writing prize. The play explores how an older generation choose to live their lives through the developing relationship between Harry and Denise as they meet each week in the changeover from one use of the Yorkshire Village Hall to the next over 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 the 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. In each scene, we learn a little more about their lives outside the village hall. 

Chris Pickles plays Harry like Peter Sallis’s Clegg character, hesitantly and tentatively learning more about the Zumba class leader and displaying the attitudes of someone ten years older than himself. Jilly Bond is Denise, reminding me of Sarah Lancashire, a superficially confident, young at heart Northern lass, acting as if she is in her fifties. This gap in attitudes to love and retirement is tested as they get to know each other over each short meeting.

Pringle’s writing is gentle and tender but truthful with the occasional burst of humorous frustration in their exchanges. My favourite line is when Harry is challenged about what he is going to do and responds with a deadpan “Firebombing an orphanage actually. Drowning some kittens”. If anything, the streamed version with its half-light scene changes feels longer than the live version and the pace seems slower. In this medium, a graphical overlay dating the next scene could have been used to cut out the reset sequences. 

The production is set in a simple box set with the ubiquitous Trestle table and a few chairs the only practical furnishings and the lighting is straightforward although there is a curious effect when the wide shot is used, and the lighting seems darker. The sound too has an echoey tone, I think because they are not each miked up but using the ambient sound. 

This is a play that benefited from the intimate setting of the Southwark Playhouse and I am sure would play well to the 140 seat Maltings audience were they allowed in. It does not seek to innovate in the creation of the streamed version, aside from a final touching outside filmed sequence and I found my interest waivered watching on a laptop while at Southwark I was sucked into their relationship. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

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