‘Coping’ is actually pretty deep
You’ll need some serious emotional preparation for this
It’s amazing to think that some students, on top of the amassing work, somehow manage to bang out entire plays.
That’s what Clare Horrigan did over Christmas break.
Her play told the story of Jess (Alice Williams) a girl who’s struggling to deal with the unexplained “disappearance” of her father (Sam Jackson).
In a heartbreaking Titanic-like narrative it was slowly unveiled that Jess’s father actually died in a sailing accident with Jess and she had been unable to access the memory.
Directed by both Autumn Evans and Horrigan, the play realistically and touchingly explored family relationships. It was performed on three dates in March at the Ex servicemen’s on Harrow road, the entirety of the play taking place in the living room of Jess’s family home. This seems limiting as set, but in fact allowed the audience the personal intimacy of viewing family life close up. This room hosts Jess’s flashbacks to her childhood, family scenes when Jess is older, and scenes with the psychologist (Alice Wersocki-Morris).
The set was made incredibly realistic by attention to detail. The significance of some of these details only became apparent towards the end of the play: the sailing boat ornaments changed from blending into the background, to suddenly having serious symbolic value.
Rachel Thomas played a young Jess as a creative and inquisitive child, already on stage as the audience entered, and miming cheerful play with her father.
From this moment the audience were drawn into the life of the family and the small space kept the audience constantly emotionally involved with the characters.
Gogglebox-esque scenes between Jess and her mother, played by Connie Crosby, gave the audience the impression of being allowed an innermost glimpse into their relationship.
The tension between the two was juxtaposed amusingly against an audio of Masterchef, creating further relation for the audience. Similarly the lighthearted use of puppets in between scenes contrasted starkly against the serious themes of the play, provoking a room full of awkward giggles.
Rachel Thomas perfectly acquired the mannerisms of a child and her relationship with her on stage parents, Sam Jackson and Connie Crosby, were heartwarming and entirely believable.
The onstage relationship between Sam and Connie was so incredible the Director had to mention the fact they improvised on one of performances to a surprised audience.
To have a cast of all the same age play characters ranging from childhood to middle age so well deserves serious credit. This alongside a well-written script was what made the play so tear jerking; a perfect mirror of family life.
The final scene, following Jess’s realization that her father has passed away, portrayed the clever technique of flashbacks that happened around her on the stage. This symbolized Jess’s own memories happening physically around her and was a perfect frame to end on.
Scene changes were subtle and smooth, changed by the simple lighting technique of switching a lamp off and on. Enjoyable folk music from Nick Charlesworth and Charlie Lockwood coincided perfectly with the maritime themes of the play to make the scenes light-hearted and tragic respectively.
The entire cast, crew and author deserve unlimited applause for dealing with such difficult and emotional themes. The play was truly poignant and will remain in my mind as a touching presentation of family life during grief.
Photography courtesy of Ollie Friston.