Bridlington at the Rosemary Branch
Peter Hamilton’s latest play, presented through his own Clockhouse Theatre Company, is an affectionate and often darkly humorous tale of mental illness, seen through the imaginative eyes of a psychiatric patient. Now beginning a three week run, Bridlington brings with it a talented cast under the able direction of Ken McClymont.
The piece explores the power of literature and fantasy by taking the viewer into the mind of Ruth: a bonny Middlesbrough lass stunted by childhood trauma and mental illness, in the process of reading her beloved Wuthering Heights for the 49th time. Inspired by Brontë and encouraged to develop her own creativity further, she shares with her “dear readers” an account of an affair with a fellow patient, Bernard, carefully brought to life by Richard Fish. Bernard is a man fixated on dark memories and a very specific area of naval warfare. He regularly receives visits from an imagined, Blackadder-esque German officer, Wulf (Christopher James Barley), who brings offers of a berth on his submarine and a life spent at sea.
Throughout the play, both Ruth and her Heathcliff-to-be yearn to drift on the winds, or perhaps tides, of a world painfully beyond their grasp. Their shared wistfulness for weather-beaten moors and unending seas not only sparks their relationship, but also provides the basis for the other key theme of the piece. Hamilton, as with previous works, draws a parallel here between the diminutive role that nature now has in society, and wellbeing: a subject seemingly as relevant today as it was for Brontë writing during the industrial revolution.
Directing, McClymont deftly handles the transitions between realities, time and place in a way that rarely feels restricted by the somewhat intimate stage area and unchanging set. The audience is effortlessly guided through the frantic mind of Ruth without being unduly drawn-out to consider representation or the repeated use of a piece of furniture. The cast seems well-selected and the actors take to their roles with great care and commitment. Most notable is Tarnoky, whose energetic performance is so brilliantly innocent and engaging, it simultaneously leaves the audience sympathising with her character’s illness, and questioning the standards of sanity held by everyone else involved.
Overall, this is a touching and well-constructed play, dealing with a variety of traumatic issues born out of a cold and industrialised world. It simultaneously provokes laughter and deep empathy with its characters, without ever becoming imbalanced reaching for either response.
Bridlington is on at the Rosemary Branch Theatre from 14th April until 3rd May 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Read an interview with Peter Hamilton on the play for This Week London here.