Shutters at the Park Theatre
Shutters, the latest endeavour of director Jack Thorpe Baker, showcases three short American plays, relaying the lives of women in snapshots from the past 100 years. Playing at the Park Theatre, a self-consciously edgy and intimate space, with an all-female cast, it’s a model of evolving theatre and multifarious approach.
The first of the three, Cast of Characters by Philip Dawkins, is the weakest link in what is an otherwise memorable collection. The premise is the introduction of a family to the audience in a run-through of a yet unperformed play. Muddled and self-serving, it’s a cluttered piece of writing that doesn’t translate well to the stage. This is the fault of the playwright and not the actresses here, who open impressively with promise for what’s to come. Cast of Characters‘ content is far too concerned with the superficial, with men and babies, as if women’s lives revolve around them; clearly written by a man. Youngest daughter Marie (Matilda Thorpe) has unresolved issues left unresolved, and homophobia is touched upon, only to be whisked away. Too aware of the cynical expectations of its audience, it’s too much gimmick and not enough substance.
Trifles, the second play, by early 20th century playwright Susan Glaspell, is a world away. The stage and tone are transformed, and the actresses really come into their own. From the outset it’s intense and moving, drawing on reserves of knowingness. Mrs Wright’s husband has been murdered and she is suspect. The action revolves around the principles of her friend Mrs Hale (the stand-out Joanna Kirkland) in protecting a woman she knows to have suffered. There is excellent characterisation here, and a real sense of women’s empathy in the American war-time period perfectly captured. Strong, solid and illustrative of an innately female sense of self-preservation, this is a performance of gravitas and stillness.
Rounding off the production is The Deer, an off-beat, witty play that explores relationships, life and death in short flashes and bursts of drama. It’s animalistic, deep and packed with words. The director’s ballet background comes into play here: movement is central to the action. Yolanda Kettle (Clara) and Beverley Longhurst (John) are both excellent, intense chemistry bouncing between them. Ruminating on who we are to each other and how to save ourselves and one another, The Deer is a powerful reminder of the decisions of life and where they can take us. A snapshot of the modern American, this short play is hilarious, tragic and thought-provoking all at once.
With minimalist staging, powerful lighting and the intelligent placement of sound, Thorpe Baker has created a collection of moving pieces that stir the imagination: magnetic, heart-wrenching and decisive, Shutters is a window on theatrical progression and women’s wisdom across our time.
Photos: Skirmantas Petraitis
Shutters is at the Park Theatre until 3rd August 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.