24:7 Theatre Festival, New Century House, Manchester
The first thing that strikes you on entering the Elphick Stage is the most elaborate set in this year's 24:7, a careful recreation by designer Emily Adamson of a rather dingy and dirty interior of a small house where two of the three women of the title live.
It immediately creates an expectation of a "kitchen sink" drama; like the original of this category, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, it doesn't actually have a kitchen sink but does feature an ironing board quite prominently.
The three women are three generations of the same family: Lorraine, her teenage daughter Ellie and her mother, only referred to in the programme as Nan. There is an attempt to create dialogue that doesn't refer directly to the issues at the start, but as this comes out fairly early on I don't think I'm spoiling anything by giving some detail of the plot.
Ellie has recently returned from hospital where she claims to have been as surprised as anyone to discover she was 22 weeks pregnant and had had a miscarriage. Lorraine is insistent that they should have a funeral for the unborn child and is trying to get Ellie ready to leave, appropriately dressed. Nan arrives but, of course, panders to her granddaughter rather than supporting her daughter's wishes.
As a premise, this holds plenty of potential, but Mari Lloyd's script doesn't really capitalise on it. Very little actually happens during the play other than a few repetitive arguments with some rather unconvincing dialogue and characters telling each other information that they already know in order to get it across to the audience (at one point, Nan awkwardly exclaims "Miscarriage!" in case we haven't got it yet).
The performers also seem a little unsure some of the time, with the exception of Lily Shepherd as pouty teenager Ellie, who is absolutely convincing throughout. Jackie Jones as Lorraine and Annie Edwards as Nan both have good moments, but there are also awkward pauses that don't have a dramatic effect and muttered words that sound like unconfident improvisations.
By the end, the characters are crying so much that there is little space for the audience to express any emotion, should they still be with it by this point.
As it stands, there is the material here for a tight and powerful 15-minute play, like a JB Short, but for a one-hour play, it is too little substance spread far too thinly.
Reviewer: David Chadderton