Four friends face death and dying
It’s important you remember this.
The happiness is something to do
with . . . the air, the sun the everything
particularly the light.”
Bryony Lavery’s play is about the friendship between four friends when they find out that one of their number, June (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) is dying of breast cancer which has developed secondary cancers. Although written fifteen years ago, there is very little that has changed.
June is probably the least obviously dramatic of the four. She is a lighting designer and the playwright’s directions in the text is that the lighting has to be “wonderful beyond belief”. As she faces death we can see what is important to her as she quietly and sadly enjoys what little time she may have left.
For June’s friends it is their loss that they are preparing for. Three of them are theatrical, musician Gash (Peter Caulfield) is full of gay energy and bad jokes, plays the piano and bursts into songs from musicals. Gash’s way of coping with death is firstly displacement, attempting to cheer everyone up and secondly to change things with an idea for a holiday. He proposes that they should go to Lourdes but this is a not an organised pilgrimage.
Their friend Leah (Jodie Jacobs) is a Jewish American stage props maker. With Gash as the driving force, they rope in another friend Joy to share the costs of driving through France to the Pyrenees. Joy is a Buddhist and has recently been deeply affected by the death of her boyfriend by suicide.
It is Easter and Gash leads the singing in the car of “Easter Parade”. The descriptions of the invalids in Lourdes took me back to the 2009 film Lourdes which showed the massive ill health tourism industry that has grown up around the French peasant girl Bernadette’s 18 visions of the Virgin Mary. They see a notice that says, “Here Miracles Do Happen”. Thank Goodness The Song of Bernadette wasn’t a musical or we would have had one of its numbers from Gash! Here I spoke too soon! The Song of Bernadette, a visionary musical opened in 2019.
The group find Lourdes depressing with sickness everywhere. There is respite and June lives long enough for her to go to New Mexico where an experimental, medical treatment is giving people hope. The fundraising for her trip becomes a group effort. But ultimately there is discussion about how to end it all.
Tinuke Craig’s sound direction in the round will wheel about the hospital bed so we can see from every angle. I didn’t find the lighting nor the play “wonderful beyond belief”.
There are funny moments like when they all pray with a difference and Joy starts with a yoga pose and intones Ohm! The best writing in the play is when June is talking about Caravaggio and light and it is June’s quiet acceptance that stays with me while the others flounder.
Written by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Tinuke Craig
Director: Tinuke Craig
Designer: Hannah Wolfe
Design Assiociate: Natalie Johnson
Lighting Designer: Elliot Griggs
Sound Designer and Composer: Beth Duke
Composition: Peter Caulfield
Intimacy Director: Yarit Dor
Running Time: Two hours without an interval
Booking to 7th August 2021
The Orange Tree Theatre
1 Clarence Street,
Phone: 020 8940 3633
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Orange Tree on 8th July 2021