This week saw SUSU Theatre Group present the double bill of ‘The Winterling’ and ‘This Wide Night’ in the Annex Theatre. Both shows were different and executed well, but the question stands, did they work as a double bill or should they have stood alone?
‘The Winterling’ tells the story of West (Jack Wheater) expecting a visit from two thugs from London, Wally (Jed Marshall) and Patsy (Robin Harris) who both do not know what to expect from the visit to a cabin in Dartmoor. We also see West’s encounters with Draycott (Tom Ellis) and Lue (Hannah Dutton) to bring the piece to its climax. There’s no doubt that Wheater can command a stage, his presence is a joy to watch and he leads the piece with conviction showing us he’s more than capable of taking on demanding lead roles. Ellis is amusing in his character, and is clearly a talented actor but I question whether his mannerisms are part of his character or one of the annoying theatre ticks that needs to be dampened. The stars of the piece were without a doubt Marshall and Harris. Their comedic timing and relationship on stage was fantastic, they dealt with accents well only slipping in places, but this didn’t detract from the perfect depiction of their characters. They both pulled it out the bag and made The Winterling what it was, ensuring I didn’t leave bored. One thing I did notice from all cast members was the habit of dropping off the end of their lines often losing sentences, whether this was a fault of the accents or opening night nerves I’m not sure. There’s no doubt the cast succeeded in tackling the challenging text.
What disappointed me most about the production however was the set. To me it felt as if the set was thrown together at last minute with little thought put in to what the set was meant to portray. Yes we are in a cabin in the middle of Dartmoor but the set needed to take me there and make me feel like I was looking in to the cabin watching the story unfold. This was evident in a scene towards the end where Draycott is seen cooking a piece of meat. It would have been more realistic if they had used something resembling a gas stove which I can understand may have been difficult to source, but I just didn’t once believe in what I was seeing. Scene changes let the cast down the most, they came across clumsy and the audience often sat in an awkward silence but limited time to rehearse in the venue always causes these issues.
You cannot fault Mike Cottrell’s direction, he clearly knows what he wants out of a character and this is evident in the performances from Marshall, Harris and Wheater who really stole the performance for me, I just wanted a little bit more from Ellis and Dutton to be able to believe in the characters more, compared to the other three their performances were lost and although good didn’t compare. I enjoyed the performance as a whole but I feel it was let down by a number of little things which detracted from the performance as a whole, I am sure however scene changes and characters will develop as the week goes on.
‘This Wide Night’ tells the story of two friends, Marie (Cat Lewis) who has been out of prison a while and Lorraine (Amy Fitzgibbon) who, just released, comes to visit Marie and we see how their friendship on the inside is so different on the outside. Lewis and Fitzgibbon were perfect casting and I couldn’t take my eyes off their performance. In a short piece they had me laughing and sympathising with their positions in society and I couldn’t have asked for more. I noticed at the start Lewis was playing the vulnerable character that I have seen her play before and was worried this was more of a type cast but my assumption was soon shot down. Lewis’ development as a character was astonishing as she takes on a journey of the many peaks and troughs of her life in such a short space of time. I started to sympathise with Marie as a person and this is exactly what I wanted to see from this performance. You cannot fault Fitzgibbon either, on a similar note to Lewis I was worried Fitzgibbon was playing a similar bubbly character to that in Romeo and Juliet but to watch her alternation from the bubbly personality at the beginning to the vulnerability of not having direction in her life at the end was great. Lewis and Fitzgibbon are force to be reckoned with and I would happily watch them perform together again and again.
The set for this was so much better, the mismatch furniture, cheap looking sofa and camp bed in the corner gave that bed sit feel, and having it all so close together helped maintain the atmosphere of a cheap studio apartment. Their transition through scenes worked, keeping in character and not forgetting an audience could still see everything happening. What surprised me even more was how the two first time directors, Emily Bradshaw and Tara Gilmore, bought the best out of Lewis and Fitzgibbon. The relationship and emotional journey we were taken on was just astounding and they should both be very proud of what they have achieved. This was an absolutely excellent piece of theatre and for me was the true highlight of the evening.
It was always going to be a challenge to put on a double bill that keeps the audience engaged through both performances and while both performances were good I don’t think they lent themselves to being a double bill. Standing at just over three hours the night did drag at points and these pieces would have been so much better had they stood alone and had their own opportunity to shine. TG did it again, producing some excellent performances highlighting the exceptional talent at the University.
Do you see this TG double bill? Let us know what you thought in the comments!