Stars are Fire
New Century House, Manchester (24:7 Theatre Festival)
Francesca Waite seems to be quite a prolific local writer as her name and that of her company Monkeywood both appear frequently in the theatre listings. Her play for 24:7 is set in Northumberland to where Neil has returned with his teenage daughter Carly after the death of his wife.
Carly is Mancunian through and through and resents being brought to this quiet little seaside town away from all of her friends, and she protests by giving dad the silent treatment—until a minor incident makes her feel guilty about her behaviour and puts the boot on the other foot. However this does not entirely quell the conflict between them.
Carly finds an unlikely confidante in Neil's mild, quiet cousin Lou, with whom she opens up about her mother and about her lifelong fascination with astronomy. Lou takes Carly on his motorbike to the coast to see the stars away from the light pollution of the town, and, in return, Carly tries to persuade Lou to realise his old ambitions to further his horizons by travelling the country on his bike—and to help her to escape back to Manchester.
The plot is fairly slight but there are some really lovely moments in this play. Director Liz Postlethwaite isn't frightened of long silences or static scenes, which are often used to very good effect. The relationship between Carly and Lou remains ambiguous until the final moments, and it is handled with great subtlety and sensitivity.
Where it falls down is on the scene changes. For some reason, the production has been lumbered with boxes full of props that take an age to set and remove between scenes, which really kills the forward movement of the play. There is a lovely scene without any words at all between Carly and her father at the dinner table, but the set-up and take-down of the scene—which involves putting real food on plates and setting the table fully and then clearing it all away—takes longer than the scene itself.
This is such a shame, as without this distraction this would probably be a real highlight of the festival. There are flaws in the play and one or two soap opera clichés, but these are easily fixed.
The standout performance of the play—perhaps of the festival—is Richie Gibson as Lou, who gives a beautifully, fully-rounded portrayal of a man who has never left his home town and has repressed any ambitions in favour of the easy life. There are also pretty decent performances from Emma Clarke as Carly and Steven Hillman as Neil.
Despite the flaws, this still exhibits, at its best, some beautiful writing and acting and is certainly worth seeing.
Reviewer: David Chadderton