The Soaking of Vera Shrimp

Alison Carr

Live Theatre & The Empty Space

Live Theatre, Newcastle

From 15 October 2014 to 18 October 2014

Review by Peter Mortimer

It’s the neatest play title I’ve seen for some time and Alison Carr’s one-woman show at times is neat too.

Tessa Parr plays the eponymous Vera Shrimp, a 14-year-old delivering what originally seems to be a science presentation (to her school class?) on the qualities and properties of water. Thus we learn such facts as Egypt has the least rainfall of any country.

Vera herself is an aquaphile. She was born in water and we slowly learn she can ‘read' raindrops and the emotions each one has absorbed from the human beings with whom they have come into contact.

The emotion with which Vera is mainly in touch is grief: grief for her mother who has recently died and grief for her father, in a coma after being saved from drowning close to where her mother’s fatality came (exact cause of mother’s death not revealed).

Yet nowhere does the play indulge or milk this grief. Vera is played by Parr with a freshness, vitality, humour and vulnerability that both disarms us and makes us realise the beauty and fragility of youth, especially when asked to deal with life’s big questions and challenges.

Possibly this supposed ability to read raindrops is merely a way of dealing with that grief, as Vera strains still to be in contact with her parents? Like many things in this deceptively simple short play, it is never spelt out.

At times, Vera asks a question then turns to stare at us with big open eyes that have an intensity and honesty all their own. It’s to the actor’s credit that never for a moment do we think she isn’t fourteen (which she isn’t). Parr uses cue cards, a projector and sticky letters to create various visual aids, (including a gravestone epitaph) on a basic set of three display boards, a table and a stool, (design by Emily Williams).

Rosie Kellagher’s lively direction always keeps Vera animated. The play does have a few problems; I’m not certain the various strands always interlink satisfactorily enough (the full use of her ‘gift’ is never much expanded on) and her parents remain somewhat distant.

Carr’s script is both playful and serious and was well received at Live Theatre’s small studio theatre by a full audience with whom the actor establishes a good rapport—and not merely because at one stage she hands out home-made cornflake cookies. I noticed a few young people of similar age to Vera (tomorrow’s theatre audiences) who were held throughout.

This is a joint presentation from Live and The Empty Space, both nurturers of new stage work.