Trestle

Stewart Pringle

Papatango Theatre Company

Southwark Playhouse

From 01 November 2017 to 25 November 2017

Review by Gerald Berkowitz

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Stewart Pringle has served his time as a theatre critic, was Artistic Director of the fringe Old Red Lion Theatre and is currently Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre. So he knows his way around a script.

His new play, which won this year's Papatango New Writing Prize, is a quietly insightful study in the way lives are shaped or altered by small events more than by big ones.

It may be too slow-moving and understated for some tastes and reach for more than it ultimately delivers. But there is the unmistakable voice of a real playwright here, one to keep an eye on.

The setting is a small village hall, where the residents' committee chaired by sixtyish Harry holds its weekly meetings, followed in the same room by Denise's Zumba exercise classes.

In a string of very short scenes, we watch the few minutes of changeover each week for several months, the committee table that must repeatedly be put up and taken down giving the play its title.

At first awkward together, the pair believably begin finding excuses for lingering over the few minutes they're alone, sharing sandwiches and jokes about their never-seen groups.

If at one point, it looks like a romance might develop and at another that a quarrel might break them up; it is no spoiler to say that neither happens and that the friendship runs its own quiet course.

The play is, at its best, both insightful and moving, when it shows how little things feel large to little people, a disappointing discovery about the other being hard to forget and forgive, or a trivial moment of embarrassment continuing to haunt the embarrassed.

Given a play structured on scenes rarely more than three or four minutes long, director Cathal Cleary and his actors must sketch in characterisations built on tiny clues.

Gary Lilburn defines Harry almost entirely in negatives as a man who has allowed his life to close in on him and is startled to find himself opening up, however slightly, to new or long-forgotten emotions.

He is, unsurprisingly, more successful in conveying the man's quieter moments than the few seemingly uncharacteristic outbursts of feeling.

Connie Walker plays Denise as much younger than Harry, though the script says they're the same age, and that does warp the play somewhat, bringing in the unwanted overtones of an old man's infatuation with a young woman.

Defining her character as more upbeat and youthful than his, she must wrestle with the clashing hints of the woman's secret sorrows.

Trestle is a play of small insights and small moments, at its best when at its quietest.