Salisbury Playhouse in the Salberg
We saw Lucy Thackeray at the Playhouse only a week ago, when she played the feisty, multi-talented maid Saunders in Salisbury’s revival of Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels, and we thought, "What a star!"
Tonight she’s on her own in Katherine Mitchell’s one-woman play Bike, directed by Ria Parry as part of the Playhouse’s Original Drama programme, in which she plays, not only the central character, but a range of others who help to mould her personality and determine her life’s path.
Bicycles, naturally, are going to play a significant role in the story and, if that sounds a bit boring, the flyer has the picture of a foot clad, not in a conventional trainer, but in a high-heeled scarlet sling-back most commonly associated with ladies of a certain profession. And, if we’re in any doubt, the ban on admitting young people under 16 is a bit of a giveaway. This isn’t just to do with bicycles.
But bicycles are important. The first scene shows Lucy, dressed in an anonymous white shirt and black trousers as a young child, ringing a bicycle bell, while an insistent drumbeat warns that this cosy atmosphere is unlikely to last.
She has just been given the bicycle, purple and with a pink saddle, by her new stepdad and, feeling somewhat restricted by the stabilisers, lifts her feet and careers joyfully downhill, oblivious to parental warnings, so experiencing for the first time in her life the wind in her hair and the sense of freedom this brings. There is no bicycle on stage. There never will be. But such is the power of Lucy’s performance that we are totally convinced.
Naturally the bicycles get bigger as Lucy grows into adulthood and away from her unfeeling stepfather and religion-obsessed mother. And when she eventually leaves home for university she finds another interest which develops rapidly into an actual obsession.
That’s it. Sex. After a rather disappointing initiation which is followed by the somewhat mundane offer of a polo mint, Lucy quickly realises that she can attract interest, and affection of a sort, which has been sadly lacking throughout her childhood, by making herself available to any man willing to cooperate. And most of them are (this play, is of course, written and directed by two women as well as having a female starring role. We don’t expect any of them to pull their punches).
In one scene she realises that she has had affairs, not just with the landlord, but with most of the patrons of the bar she’s presently drinking in. As she gradually comes to realise the extent of her obsession with sex, she wrings our hearts with, "I don’t know who I am any more," and, "I wanted to be loved so much."
Then, in the second part she, surprisingly, gets married. In his speech, her stepfather tells the wedding guests he loves her, something she’s never heard him say before.
Her new husband is a bike enthusiast too, but then there are children and approaching middle age and the belief that "mums don’t really do sex". As well as the other roles, the child, the lovers and the husband, Lucy now takes on the role of a patronising, sugar-toned marriage counsellor.
Will they succeed in resurrecting their marriage? Not if it has anything to do with her (the counsellor), perhaps.
But we really are concerned about what happens to Lucy now. Her happiness is important to us and that ring of the bicycle bell and final line give us hope.
"Wanna go for a ride?"
Reviewer: Anne Hill