A review by Leila Sellars for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Write Now 2

Keeping Mum

by Judith Bryan

Director Rebecca Manson Jones


Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

8-12 March 2011


Keeping Mum, part of Write Now 2 – the new writing season at the Jack Studio theatre that champions innovative playwrights with a link to South East London - tells the story of a young Caribbean couple struggling to survive the cultural and physical hardships of a freezing London winter. The narrative is told through the flashes of clarity experienced by an ageing woman as she looks to her past. Judith Bryan's script is superbly written, the dialogue is sharp and direct, while the plot cleverly weaves together the past and the present with bursts of a strange almost ghostly surrealism that gives the play another facet beyond pure realism.

Bryan gives an unusual cultural insight into the 1960s Caribbean immigrant world, starkly exposing the isolation experienced by the women at that time, in particular. But this, more excitingly, is also a play about mental health, about the darkness that threatens to consume Emilia, the wife, mother and main protagonist – and that ultimately defines her very existence.

The acting in this production is really exceptional. Evadne Ricketts as Emilia plays a very complex part with an effortless warmth and empathy. She flits between essentially two characters, that of the young wife of her past, and her current, almost childlike state as an elderly dementia sufferer dependent on her daughter. Ricketts portrays both with finesse, giving a layered performance that illuminates the stage and explores the contradictory elements within her character with a graceful subtlety. Equally, Matt Christian Reed beautifully executes the mercurial character of Jay. His role, within the present day narrative of the piece, manipulates the other characters, pushing them back into their pasts, forcing them to explore and reflect on events hitherto ignored and repressed. Reed's watchful presence on stage is a source of disquiet for cast and audience alike. His character is never clearly defined within the plot, but his sly evasive manner lends an almost other worldly aspect, which adds a whole new dimension to the piece.

The cast as a whole is strong, the two men – Howard Sadler as Gabriel and Marcus Adolphy – playing Emilia's husband and brother, respectively, give convincing performances and between them perfectly capture the mixture of possibility, excitement and disappointment that seems to sum up the Caribbean immigrant experience in the 1960s. Donna Berlin also shows her skill as an actor, albeit in a slightly one dimensional part, as Jacs - her mother's carer. In fact, in terms of the acting within this piece, the only negative comment worth mentioning is the inconsistencies present in the actors' attempts at Caribbean accents, which do tend to detract from the standard of the performances.

Director Rebecca Manson Jones vision is one of simplicity, something that perfectly suits this play. She allows the plot to unfold with very little in the way of theatrics or showy effects. The piece feels very natural, with a clear sense of direction – maintaining a clever line between the clearly defined and the slightly blurry - giving the audience just enough ambiguity to draw their own conclusions at the end of the play. This is an exciting piece of new writing, produced to a very high standard. Manson Jones displays ingenuity as a director, allowing the play to speak for it-self and in doing so, establishing Judith Bryan as an exciting and talented playwright.

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