Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Winona

Christopher T Harris
Abandoned Theatre Company
Lantern Theatre, Liverpool

Winona

Liverpool’s Lantern theatre has a knack of staging taut, psychological dramas—it’s in this arena’s DNA: the compact performance space, the uber-low ceiling, the tightly-packed chairs. If it’s ‘atmos’ you want, then look no further. This place draws you in. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Abandoned Theatre Company has chosen exactly the right location for its production of Winona—a claustrophobic tale of almost Pinteresque proportions. Indeed, Christopher T Harris’s play peels back its layers in a way that Sir Harold would surely have approved.

Right from the start, there are questions-a-plenty hanging in the air as we are introduced to siblings Daf (Andy Evans) and Kate (Lesley Staum-Lewis) who have just moved into a new cottage somewhere in rural Wales.

Two’s company, as the old saying goes, so when the enigmatic and apparently suicidal Ed (Ally Goodman) arrives unannounced, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get any better.

The arrival of this enigmatic stranger into the fold is the catalyst for underlying tensions between brother and sister to surface. The cracks begin to show. Little by little, brother and sister reveal self-destructive tendencies, inhabitants of their own brittle reality. We’re in Caretaker territory. It’s compelling stuff.

The trio of young performers certainly bring oodles of enthusiasm to their roles. However, one can’t help feel a little nonplussed at the casting. Don’t get me wrong, the young cast give it their best shot and the potential is evident for all to see, but plays like this require an essential ingredient in order to truly take off: gravitas.

Thus at times it can feel like the end of term show by the sixth form drama class. Had this been Gregory’s Girl, then we would have undoubtedly had a raging success on our hands. It has nothing to do with the three actors on stage—all of whom do themselves credit and would certainly flourish given the right roles. Youth is a blessing—of that there is no doubt. Occasionally, though, the magic ingredient is that little thing called experience.

Despite the casting, the play roles along at a brisk pace. Chris Harris has certainly cooked up an intriguing drama here. There’s suspense to spare. Direction is also brisk. The only time the action really flags is during an elongated dinner scene, which sees the actors eat in silence and—wait for it—real time (I kid you not!) Had it worked we’d be talking about this scene for years to come. As it is….

Overall Winona is an embryonic piece of theatre. There’s certainly bags of potential here, with a little tweaking it could easily become a must-see play. Abandoned Theatre Co has certainly managed to concoct an intriguing dish of drama with this production, that’s for sure.

The hallmarks of Pinter are splashed all over what is undeniably a tasty little dish. And who among us doesn’t like a dash of HP from time to time?

Reviewer: David Sedgwick