"The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Man In The Moon Marigolds".
Lace Market Theatre, Nottingham.
Lace Market Theatre, Nottingham.
It's plays and productions like this that fuel my love for local theatre. Not as well known in the UK as it is in America where it's on the school curriculum. It's written by Paul Zindel, a playwright and science teacher who received the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The play revolves around a dysfunctional family consisting of single mother Beatrice and her two daughters, Ruth and Tillie, who try to cope with their abysmal status in life.
Tillie is doing a science project, which is where the title of the play comes from, and goes on to win the top prize at the school. The success is short lived though when she, and sister Ruth return home to their mother and they find out what she has done.
Ruth, the big sister swings from being an ally in the bullying stakes with mother Beatrice, to being proud of her little sister for the attention she has been getting at school.
Beatrice, the mother is the real focus of the play. She is a nasty piece of work who you get to see a glimmer of motherly love, which then swiftly disappears after Ruth taunts her about the nickname she had at school,"Betty the Loon". Beatrice is the epitome of narcissism. She is domineering and cruel, verbally and physically to the two daughters and Nanny, who she took in to look after, for the sum of $100.00. She's also a borderline alcoholic. As you can tell, Beatrice is an interesting character to say the least.
Chloe Senior gives her best performance to date as Beatrice. the part is wordy and emotive and when she catches your eye in character, you feel like she is talking directly to you, and you can feel the venom. Playing such a damaged character such as Beatrice I imagine is draining but so rewarding for an actor.
Emily Ross (Tillie) is also excellent as the shy and put upon teenager, who looks about 12 but, so I learned isn't a teenager in real life, She is so young looking! A wonderfully restrained performance which also shows the battle she has with her stand for independence through her love of science against her mother's wish for total control over the family.
Eve Gordon, who I'm sure has had stints in Coronation Street, played the elder daughter, Ruth. Once more a really powerful performer whose siding with Tillie and then her mother swings like a pendulum. the character may look to be in control but Eve also shows the damaged side of the character, especially in the second act.
Playing the unspoken character of Nanny was Ba Fisher. It was horrible to see the way that Nanny was spoken to and treated by Beatrice, which, although set in 1983, could also reflect the issues that the elderly who are cared for by third parties, in any decade right up to date. Taken out of context of the play, this is also a valid piece of social commentary.
The only other character was Janice Vickery, played by Adei Bundy, one of the other girls who took part in the science fair who cleared up rumours throughout the first part of the play that she boiled a cat to get the skin off it. It becomes apparent in Janice's speech what she did and why. All for scientific reasons by the way.
There's not too many plays that have an all female cast, which is refreshing, and seeing the way that all female cast members react and act with each other is interesting. There's a complete naturalness with all five actors.
Directed by Michael-Craig Darmola, he has chosen to take the characters and make them not so "heavy" as the ones in the film and, while the subject matter of the play is mostly seen as depressing, he also brings out the natural comedy of the unnatural situation, especially with some of the telephone conversations that Beatrice has with the school and Tillie's teacher in particular. I knew that the play was not a happy one where everything ends happily ever after but I didn't envisage the subtle comedy, which came as rather a nice and refreshing relief. Saying that, the balance was just right and it's nice not to see a happy ever after end.
Apart from the brilliant acting, the sound design was of interest. there's a certain magic in the theatre and the way the sound works, especially in such an intimate staging as the studio upstairs. The radio which was on a stool in the play emitted music from it. Nothing strange there I hear you cry, but when it works on it's own and then in the second act the music from the speakers in the studio seem to just drop to the radio, to be turned off by the actors. It's these little touches that make plays like these just that little bit more magical on a technical level. The sound design was by Matthew Allcock, assisted by Tom Inglis and lighting by Rose Dudley.
Also loved the attention to the period of the 80's with the props. A muppet puppet, Jedi book, the cigarette packet and the telephone all took you back to that era. Little details that some of the audience may have missed but all add to the realism of the play.
Yet again the Lace Market Theatre have provided a service by introducing theatre goers to a production of a play that isn't played to death. Some may have been well aware of the 1964 play and others, like myself weren't aware of the play or indeed the 1972 film, and have now experienced the joy of this wonderful piece of theatre, presented by an extremely talented cast and production team.
"The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Man In The Moon Marigolds".is on at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 29 October 2016.