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The Distance

Deborah Bruce
Orange Tree Theatre and Sheffield Theatres
Orange Tree Theatre

Michelle Duncan Credit: Johann Persson
Sinclair Evans and Daniel Hawksford Credit: Johann Persson
Charlotte Emerson Credit: Johann Persson

Deborah Bruce’s gentle comedy The Distance is set almost entirely in the Sussex home of the character Kate during the summer of 2011. Kate (Charlotte Lucas) is gathering friends together to sort out Bea (Michelle Duncan) who has just arrived from Melbourne claiming she has left her children forever with their father Simon (Timothy Knightley).

Kate believes that children should be raised by their mother and that Bea should claim custody of her children. Thus she sets about booking her and Bea on a flight back to Australia. She does so without either consulting Bea or even making arrangements for her own child while she is away.

All three of the women in this play seem vague about the care of their children. It is Kate’s partner Dewi (Daniel Hawksford) who looks after and puts to bed their daughter Iris. Kate’s friend Alex (Charlotte Emerson) seems to be uncertain where her children are, a situation that panics her when as news comes through of riots in London following the police killing of Mark Duggan, she gets a text from Southwark Council asking if she knows where her child is.

It is Dewi’s brother Vinnie who questions Kate’s stereotyped views on the natural childcare abilities of mothers and the supposed lack of importance of men in the childcare process.

Alex, played with fine comic timing by Charlotte Emerson, is the scatty centre of the play’s humour. She mixes up keys and 'phone numbers and seems more interested in sneaking out of the house to smoke dope than sorting out Bea’s situation.

The dialogue is fast, particularly when Kate is speaking. Kate works on things with a furious intensity or she pays no attention to them at all. If she were to have given any attention to the riots, you could imagine her scooping up the rioters and putting them to bed with no supper.

We don’t get much idea about why Bea left her children other than her claim that she made a mistake and that the father Simon is much better with the children. During the first section of the play, she barely speaks. She seems numb and talks about feeling adrift. Only when she comes back to the house in the middle of the night to find Alex’s fifteen-year-old son Liam (Sinclair Evans) sleeping on the couch does she really begin to speak. And then it is to a young man who looks clearly out of his depth.

This comedy has such a rosy, warm-hearted view of the world it would not have been surprising if in this December performance the entire cast had finished off with one of the jollier Xmas songs. The audience so cheered by its brief, cosy escape from the world might all have joined in.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna