Joe Ward Munrow
Part of Write Now 2
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
Writer Joe Ward Munrow had drawn directly from his own experience of working in a Liverpool laundrette to pen The Laundry, the second of three plays selected for the Write Now 2 new writing festival at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.
Work experience notwithstanding, this is not an autobiographical piece and the young Ben of the story who runs away to Liverpool from London to escape we-know-not-what, is not Ward Munrow who went from London to Liverpool to study drama at John Moore's University. He remained in the area, and it was The Liverpool Everyman's young writers programme, from which he graduated last year, that fostered the development of this, his first full length play.
It is a moody, unrushed play full of extended pauses and atmosphere. The uncommunicative Ben's back-story is told largely in flash-forward episodes and flash-back answerphone messages which intersperse the otherwise sequential events in the basement laundry where he works with old scouser Terry. Within this template there are also scenes where the dialogue of two unconnected scenarios cross over each other, rather like two different tennis games played together on one court. At its most subtle this is clever stuff, but at its extreme of fragmentation, it verges on the too clever by half - but let's not knock new talent for its ambition and more power to Ward Munrow's elbow for giving a challenging device a very accomplished shot.
The Laundry's structure has a choppy quality and even the many skills of director Mark Leipacher cannot work round the inevitable backsliding in pace between scenes. The overall effect, though, put me in mind of looking at a mosaic: looking closely at individual pieces and the way each joins the neighbouring ones delivers a certain benefit but the real return comes from standing back and experiencing the whole.
Chris Bearne gives a moving performance as widower Terry, who has worked alone in the laundry for nearly three decades and now needs help and company. Bearne gives Terry an innate kindness and good nature which makes his 'tell it as it is' rough honesty endearing.
Sam Millard plays the young runaway Ben. His performance grew on me as he seemed to develop confidence, revealing the vulnerability behind this sullen teenager, struggling with his conscience. Kathryn Worth plays the police officer with strength and compassion and supports as the doctor and Jeryl Burgess is salt-of-the-earth Rose and supports in other roles.
Designer David Shields' set was convincingly mundane and functional but something that allowed for snappier scene changes might be have been helpful and, if I can be very picky for a moment because this might have been a technical hitch, the lighting levels in a windowless basement don't fluctuate, so a good deal of thought needs to be given to using lighting changes for effect.
Joe Ward Munrow and his play have nonetheless been served well by this production and I hope this young Deptford-raised writer returns south to share future work. There is something haunting about this play. At the forefront is the 'odd couple' redemptive friendship that develops between tormented Ben and the quasi father-figure missing from his upbringing, Terry, but other themes permeate like colours running through fabric making an enduring pattern.
The Festival continues with "Keeping Mum" by Judith Bryan from 8th to 12th March. Following the Thursday performance there will be a short discussion with members of the creative team and the audience. This is open to all and free if you have bought a ticket for that night's performance.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti