The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek

Naomi Wallace
Southwark Playhouse
(2003)

This is seemingly a simple story of the death of a young girl in small-town America in the mid-1930s. In fact, it is a densely-packed play that works on many levels.

When he meets the spunky, tomboyish Pace Cregan, Dalton Chance, two years her junior at 15, is seduced in every way. She introduces him to the concept of a race across a Trestle Bridge, finely realised by designer Jaimie Todd. If you lose, you are killed by the train but provided that you have faith and determination, this will not happen.

The train and the race are a metaphor for coming of age and, more simply, for losing virginity. Already, a champion runner, Brett has died in his attempts to win the race and thus capture Pace.

Under Raz Shaw's direction, the excitement of this challenge is immense as he draws the audience under the bridge while a train races overhead. Mike Winship's sound complements Todd's wooden staves - some solid, some rotten.

The burgeoning love between the two outsiders, played movingly if a little uncertainly by Steven Webb and Hannah Storey, develops in spite of the opposition of Dalton's protective mother, Kate Harper. She has her own problems with an unemployed husband and a job that threatens her health.

These latter elements are equally important to a play that gets beneath the skin of an America in the grip of the Depression. In its way, it is reminiscent of Fitzgerald or Steinbeck, as we see an increasingly forlorn search for the American Dream. While the older generation may have largely given up, the adventure of their children is where hope must lie.

This is a well-written, heavily symbolic play that engages the viewer on both conscious and much deeper planes. It has the power to haunt the thoughts and dreams of its audience long after they leave Southwark.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher