Customs House, South Shields
Green Beans, Rosalind Wyllie's first play, is a remarkably assured piece of work. Not only does it have strong characterisation, but it also makes good use of the central character as narrator, plays with the audience's perceptions (slipping, at one point, from reality into hilarious fantasy) and makes clever use of circular construction. Dealing with sibling rivalry, it confounds our expectations and preconceptions, making us laugh all the way and saying an awful lot about family life in doing so.
The situation is simple: Sarah has been living in the North East and brings boyfriend Tom home to Aldeburgh where immediately long-established warfare between her and young sister Lucy breaks out. In the middle is mother, Rita, and exerting their own inflences are father (who never appears) and granny (who is dead). Simple though the situation may be, the plot has enough twists and turns to keep the audience on its toes. And who is the villain in the family cat fight? Is Sarah really the black sheep and is Lucy really Little Miss Perfect?
Wyllie's command of dialogue is impressive, with each character having his/her own language, and she manipulates the audience as surely as the sisters manipulate each other and those around them.
She is well served by her director, Carol McGuigan, and her cast. McGuigan gets the pace just right and the dreamlike , dance-like interludes between scenes, which could have been excruciatingly embarrassing, worked well.
The two sisters, Victoria Elliott as Sarah and Samantha Phyllis Morris as Lucy, take obvious delight in their warfare and the actresses bring them fully alive. Jacqueline Phillips (Rita) sustains a very convincing slightly aggrieved air of long-suffering - and reminded me very much of Penelope Wilton. Micky Cochrane (who, if we are talking of similarities with other actors, could surely make a living as a Neil Morrissey lookalike - except who would want a Neil Morrissey lookalike?) gives us a Tom who somehow manages to be both slightly bemused and yet full of what Sarah very accurately calls "psycho-babble".
And the signifance of the title and the publicity image? You need to see the play!
It is a long time since I have come away from the first production of a first play so impressed, not just by the ideas but by the technical skill of the writer. In fact, the last time was at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe and the play was Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way. Wyllie is in very good company!
"Green Beans", the second play in the Customs House's fifth February Drama Festival, runs until 11th February
Reviewer: Peter Lathan