Transports at the Pleasance Theatre
Transports, the first of Pipeline Theatre’s three plays, is currently enjoying a retour throughout the spring, bringing with it solid proof that this fledgling company has had a strong and singular voice from the start. With stories realer than life, characters that demand our deepest empathy, richly subtextual scripts and seamless set design, each one of their shows is worth dropping everything to see.
Two displaced individuals are thrown together: 49-year old German immigrant Lotte and Dinah, the teenager she takes into her home. Both damaged by their sad histories, their coping mechanisms couldn’t be more different. Lotte displays a desperate optimism that manifests itself in inane chatter, while Dinah is reckless to the point of self-sabotage. Dinah claims to love reading about sex and murder, while Lotte doesn’t even watch films as she doesn’t like to witness “horrible things”. As we switch between the WWII refugee crisis and the late 1970s that provide the backdrops to their respective childhoods, the parallels between women’s lives grow ever more apparent.
Juliet Welch, one of Pipeline Theatre’s founders, plays the role of Lotte with aplomb. She switches from unbearable chatterbox to little-girl-lost with natural ease, all with a nuanced accent that is RP English with just a tell-tale hint of German. Welch also takes on several side characters with thorough well-roundedness. Hannah Stephens is heartbreaking as the impassive Dinah, letting us see just enough through her armour to glimpse the mess within.
Writer Jon Welch’s script is peppered with tender humour, which makes the play’s gradual onslaught of tragedy all the harder to bear. Troubled Dinah uses poetry as an outlet, her monologues all in the form of haikus, sonnets or blank verse: “They wear their smiles as tight as their sphincters,” she sneers.
The set is typically enigmatic. Themes of displacement and unrest are echoed in upright train tracks, departure boards and video of track falling away. Audio has an important part to play: thunderous trains, cruel playground whispers, the meowing of Lotte’s cat Oskar. All these elements converge to create a visceral and indelible experience.
We won’t mention the ending, but suffice to say there’s a hard-hitting surprise for the audience.
Watch a clip of the original Transports tour here: