Troubled Sleep

HANNAH MIRSKY struggles to engage with an interesting piece of theatre that is just too short to deal with the issues it presents.

ADC ADC toilet Cambridge hannah mirsky Hellie Cranney isolde penwarden loo troubled sleep

ADC Theatre Ladies Toilets, 8pm & 9.30pm. 23rd-27th April, £5/6 

The stage…no, really

Ever left the theatre thinking how incredibly quickly the show went? It’s a good feeling. Ever turned on your phone to discover that it really did only last fifteen minutes? No? I hadn’t either, until last night. Perhaps it made sense – it was an odd, uncomfortable venue and there was lots of tightly-packed dialogue. But I couldn’t help feeling more than a little disappointed.

The acting itself is perfectly good. The Irish accents are at times a little dodgy (and a little inexplicable, considering this is the first English-language performance of a Spanish play) but the characters are successfully naturalistic. Hellie Cranney particularly shines as Anna, a jaded cleaner, scrubbing furiously for much of the performance, but capable of trembling stillness at emotional moments. Victoria Fell as Becky has the tricky task of staying mostly still while Cranney bustles around her. She mostly deals with this well, directing pointed comments around the room, but her movements occasionally feel a little awkward.

In case you’d forgotten (this article should jog your memory), this show actually takes place in the ladies’ loo at the ADC. “What a crappy gimmick,” I hear you cry. (Had to get a poo joke in somewhere – sorry.) Well, there is a fairly sensible reason for it – the play is set in a public toilet. And the mirrors mean that you can see the actors from every angle. But, judging from the dialogue, it’s meant to be set in a toilet much grimmer than those at the ADC, which leads to the odd sensation of watching Cranney complain about the filth on a sparkling white sink.

But that isn’t my main issue with the venue. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a public loo and people start having a fairly intense conversation about family issues, my response is to get out of there sharpish. Or at the very least try not to listen. The tiny audience for this production is crammed into a corner of the room, huddled together, leaning on the wall, and it somehow makes you feel very sheepish. Even though I knew I was supposed to be paying attention, a part of my brain (a part that clearly doesn’t understand the basic principles of theatre) kept trying to remind me that this probably wasn’t any of my business. It made it pretty difficult to engage with the drama, particularly when the play was so brief.

It’s the shortness that really does this production in. There’s some good acting, and the problems I’ve talked about could probably be overcome if the audience had time to settle into the show, but it’s over just when you’re starting to get into it. The program tells me that the play ‘deals with issues of (sexual) abuse, sibling rivalry, provincial suffocation, class, jealousy and loss’, but the thing is – it doesn’t really deal with any of them. There isn’t time to give them any serious treatment. They’re just things that are brought up.

I’d have liked to see this piece as part of a longer show, or in conjunction with other short plays, but, particularly considering the difficulties of the venue, on its own it just isn’t enough.