A play for today: Serendipity connections in a lockdown
“Hiding all of ourselves in pockets.”
In a play for our times from Defibrillator; Gemma Lawrence tells the story of isolation in the tower blocks on the outskirts of the city. Two women socially distanced on the sixth floor of twin tower blocks can only see each other when they are on their balconies, but somehow with these glimpses, they form a growing connection in their own minds.
Each day at 11am, Marie (Gemma Lawrence) plays the same song. In the afternoon, Stella (Remmi Milner) tends to her red geraniums, a splash of colour in this relentlessly grey landscape. Marie lives alone working remotely on some kind of hi-tech development, “Welcome to the Human Digital Safari”, using only her brain and feeling distanced from the rest of her own body. Stella lives with her invalid mother, originally from the Caribbean, once a famous night club singer, but now on a ventilator to help her breathe.
Whereas Marie is introverted, Stella is animated and vivacious, attractive and the centre of attention in any social grouping but the lockdown, now three months in, has meant she is looking after her mother. In a way Marie and Stella are yin and yang. Stella is amusing and acts out every situation for us whereas there is a sadness about Marie, reflected in her oversized, grey T shirt hanging over the thin running shorts she wears in this working from home situation. Stella finds humour in her mother’s telling her off with a beautiful imitation of her mother’s accent.
Lighting carefully marks shifts in the play and the soundscape reminds us of the city traffic and dogs barking in the distance. Gemma Lawrence’s characters are very rounded and of course James Hillier’s direction ensures their body language enriches the words taking us deep into their feelings.
Why is it that developers use these pastoral names for their developments? Whenever we went to The Glades shopping centre in Bromley, my daughter would say, “Glades? I don’t see any trees!” Sunnymead Court, despite the brutal architecture and the ironic name, makes us reflect and feel there is hope at the end of the lockdown, and where ever people can connect.
The Tristan Bates Theatre at the Actors Centre has only 28 socially distanced seats, a one way system agreeably manned at every turn, and masks will be worn during the 45 minute performance. Again these smaller venues are showing us welcome live theatre possibilities. Gemma Lawrence acted in Mike Bartlett’s first play Not Talking at the Arcola in 2018 which was also directed by James Hillier.
Written by Gemma Lawrence
Directed by James Hillier
Director: James Hillier
Lighting and Video Designer: Will Monks
Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim
Running Time: 45 minutes without an interval
Closed on 3rd October 2020
Extending digitally with online live-streams until the 11th of October
Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St
London WC2H 9NP
Phone: 020 3841 6611
Tube: Covent Garden
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Tristan Bates Theatre on 24th September 2020