by Hywel John.
Clwyd Theatr Cymru To 15 May 2010.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 May.
The dark side of childhood.
Children laughing can delight or annoy; children crying are painful to hear. But the most sinister sound of childhood, as Hywel John’s new play makes clear, is tonal blankness. The twins Bea and Jack respond with apparent politeness. But they speak with a toneless candour disturbingly devoid of feeling or moral sense.
“You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards,” Jack tells their godmother Sophie after she’s spent a night on the sofa. Bea rebukes him, but her simple “Jack” comes over like his statement, as something learned from their dead parents. Jack has no intention to hurt. Nor does Bea particularly feel shocked; these children have learned words and phrases and reactions from adults and re-use what they have heard.
As the twins stand together in the sober black of bereavement, as they later don parental clothes – Bea her mother’s dress, Jack a dark suit several sizes too large – their responses, as if learned from a phrase-book, are a way of sealing themselves from Sophie. They cope by becoming externalised impersonations of their parents. Jack’s doubtless seen his father remove or replace his spectacles loose in his jacket’s inner-pocket as the boy repeatedly does here.
The result’s getting on for as creepy as The Turn of the Screw. As with Henry James’ Flora and Miles, the twins have a joint hermetic existence which a mere well-intentioned adult outsider cannot penetrate or comprehend, for it’s immune to kindness. There’s the same geographical loneliness as in James, caught in Mark Bailey’s set with its surrounding trees and huge shelving bearing photographs – pictures Sophie starts turning over as if trying to deny the past while matters grow oppressive.
The creepy, obsessive atmosphere, the pervading, yet elusive sense of threat develop throughout Kate Wasserberg’s production. Jennifer Kidd’s Sophie remains pleasantly reasonable as control of the situation slips from her, while Louise Collins and Steven Meo, standing side-by-side, speaking the right words tonelessly or parrot-fashion, are an instinctive unit even when she rebukes her brother for his frankness. So much, that when malice erupts, it makes a conclusion but also an anti-climax.
Beatrice: Louise Collins.
Sophie: Jennifer Kidd.
Jack: Steven Meo.
Director: Kate Wasserberg.
Designer: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Tom White.
Sound: Andrea J Cox.