Live Theatre, Newcastle
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Open Clasp’s stated aim is to save the world one play at a time, and you could do a lot worse than that. For the last quarter century, the company has looked to transform women’s lives, and for this current production they’ve worked with Pause, the charity involved with women who’ve had children taken into care.
Catrina McHugh is the company’s joint CEO, artistic director, lead facilitator and playwright and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover she sweeps the stage as well. People in power were obviously impressed as she’s got an MBE, an award not given to many theatre activists on a mission. Two more of McHugh’s plays are in the pipeline for the company. I suppose she sleeps sometime.
Meantime, we have Lasagna, a powerful two-hander with Zoe Lambert as Sally, the well-intentioned middle-class single woman and erstwhile social worker living across the street from Beth Crane’s working class and hostile Jane, who’s seen her children taken from her and into care.
When the two first meet, Jane bristles with anger and is less than impressed with Sally’s well-mannered demeanour, though both characters travel an interesting journey before the play’s hour is up (we learn Sally contracted cancer for one thing) and manage to get us to the destination of friendship and understanding without condescension or patronisation.
There are no out-and-out saints or sinners here, you’ll be relieved to know. The play is unfussily directed at a brisk pace by Laura Lindow on Verity Quinn's uncluttered set, making good use of the lighting by Sherry Coenen.
The play does have at its heart a genuine optimism and, boy, do we all need that in a country increasingly riven by conflict, nihilism and self-doubt. All this and a hapless, dysfunctional government of self-serving toadies. OK, I’ll dismount from that horse now.
Sometimes, the two characters address one other, elsewhere they deliver monologues to no-one in particular or at other moments, describe to us what they have just done. "I walk over to open the door," for instance may be needed in a radio play, but not when we’ve just seen the character do it.
The audience at Newcastle’s Live Theatre Studio—where an extra matinée performance was hastily arranged due to the demand for tickets—was a good eighty per cent female, which is understandable though I did find myself wondering how challenging it would be to stage this play in, say, my local working men’s club where, theatre-wise, they'd still consider Ray Cooney a bit radical. Open Clasp could carry it off.
Reviewer: Peter Mortimer