All Because of Molly

Paul Ferguson
24:7 Theatre Festival rehearsed reading
New Century House, Manchester

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As a child Molly accuses Casey of having green poo. As an adult she paralyses her from the neck down. The latter attack not only ruptures Casey's spinal nerve, but also her life-long friendship with Jamie, who, in an ending which reaches for tragedy but doesn't quite reach, is asked to assist her best friend's suicide.

A broad retelling of the central plot arc never offers much by way of critique, for it is often the minutiae of a play that mark it as accomplished or not. Paul Ferguson, it is pleasing to see, rewards an attentive eye. In an early schoolroom scene, Casey hits Molly in the back of the neck with a rubber, deftly foreshadowing the bottleneck incident which drives Casey towards suicide. In another telling formative experience, Casey is able to appease the suffering of an injured animal by killing it, a deed which hints at her own later demise. And, finally, when the two girls await the results of their 11+, and the caesura in their friendship that this might bring about, Casey hopes that Jamie gets accepted to grammar school, even if this means the personal loss of their daily companionship. Thus we learn from these early plot details that Casey is brave, selfless and vulnerable to a counter-offensive. This is sure characterization and tension-building on the part of the writer.

We also learn that young Casey is without a mother and doesn't like fairies or horses. Instead she likes catapults. It is such small, seemingly throwaway details that contribute to the sculpting of a complete personality, which in turn helps tighten the affiliation between character and audience. Such affiliations (call it empathy, sympathy, belief . . .) then allow the writer to utilize the full power of the dramatic situation. Thus, the climax of this piece - the revelation that Casey has asked Jamie to assist her suicide - is only likely to succeed dramatically if the necessary affiliation between character and audience has been developed.

In a sense, then, a writer has to earn a climax like the one offered here by preceding it with balanced and accomplished characterization. Ferguson certainly labours hard to display the intensity of the relationship between Casey and Jamie, to load it with the sufficient 'meaning' so that the plays denouement is experienced as tragic. It might just have been me - I hope it was - but I wasn't stirred by the ending because I wasn't stirred by the characters that had been sold to me up to this point.

Characterization is a mercurial art, and if there were a simple guideline to doing it effectively I'd love a copy. All that might be advertised is the utter importance of the formative stages of the play, when the audience makes their initial emotional investment, when they place their stake in the characters. In these early stages, less can often do more. Ironically, what a character doesn't say and do, and how they don't say and do it, might be what lends them that all-important emotional pull. I ask these questions of character less as a criticism of what is shown here (I've noted the writers' subtle character rendering above) and more as a way of considering how a writer might get what they deserve, how a potentially tragic scene be allowed to fulfil its potential.

When a script is performed at this stage of its development, the paucity of technical concerns can be a considerable advantage. On this occasion, the simple staging allows the narrative a spatial and temporal restlessness, jumping slickly from the playground to the school toilets, from the dance floor of a club to university dorms, and then finally, and fatally, to the hospital. When this script is developed for the stage though, one of two things might have to happen: either the staging of the play retains the simplicity it (necessarily) displays here, or, in the interest of pacing and dramatic tension, some scenes are sacrificed and others congealed. Though, it should be added, I am always delighted to be proved wrong.

All Because Of Molly adds some cute comic flashes to the narrative's suspense and pathos. I certainly didn't ever expect to be both moved and amused by a scene wherein a young woman struggles with a tampon in a tent. Elsewhere, the writer shows a clever ability to draw humour from all corners of a scene. When Casey and Jamie are out drinking in a bar, it is the antics and personae of the bar staff and the hopeless lechers on the dance floor that provide the laughs. Being sure that the margins of a scene contribute to the dramatic effect of the centre is certainly a habit worth retaining. What is also shrewd is the writer's decision to stress in the title of the play the significance of a character that is then kept hidden for so long. By doing so, a note of caution and intrigue is conceived in the audience's mind, where it lays quietly pregnant as the action unfolds.

Room for improvement? There is no need, I feel, for Casey and Jamie to speak the same lines simultaneously. I infer that such a device is employed by the writer to emphasise the characters' inseparability. Other devices - of which the writer seems to have a sure grasp - work just as effectively without being so conspicuous. Also, sections of the dialogue (as is always the case) certainly need a trim at the back and sides. It is nigh impossible to strip dialogue of all that is superfluous, but, more often than not, a script will only be improved if the writer religiously asks: is this line, scene or act as economic and tight as possible? Are there any words, details or characters that could be cut without damaging the momentum and direction of the piece? If the answer is no, then a fine job has already been done.

Reviewer: Ben Aitken

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