views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor
The Space
4th June 2014

★★★☆☆

Promotional image for The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor

Photography © Elaine Wong

When I saw a short work-in-progress performance of The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor last year, whilst I enjoyed what was showcased, I felt it was lacking in a conclusion. Since then, playwright Roisin Rae has developed the piece, making her point more clearly and fleshing out ideas. At just under an hour, the result is now a fringe length show which not only moves, but serves as a mouthpiece for Rae and her company, Prams in the Hall.

When mum-of-three Sophie (Rae) is asked by an old contact to exhibit some of her paintings, the unexpected call reawakens Sophie's passion for art, and her need to be recognised as an individual. Having spent several years exclusively folding laundry and picking up toy cars, it's understandable that Sophie just doesn't feel like her own woman anymore, and the chance to reconnect with her old self forces her to reevaluate the compromises she has made thus far.

Rae once again delivers a spot on performance of a harassed mother, always acutely aware of everyone else's needs and never stopping to consider her own, but she is the only returner from the previous production. Elisa Terren this time portrays Sophie's other self, the creative part of her that has been slowly languishing for years, yearning to be freed. Rae and Terren work together well, frequently mimicking each other's movements, comforting each other, or even watching and judging the choices made by the other one. There is a clear bond between the two aspects of Sophie's soul, but it's fading away.

The other roles are deliberately played by only a few actors, which adds to the chaos of family life. Trevar Alan Chilver is Sophie's husband, Andrew, but he's also their son, Ben, and a few other characters for good measure. Nadia Nadif is daughter Gemma, Sarah Elizabeth Winn is daughter Hattie, but again like Chilver, they take on some other bit parts. Director Anna Ehnold-Danilov makes use of all the stage exits at The Space to establish a sense of hustle and bustle, emphasising the growing pressure on Sophie.

The inclusion of an interview with a journalist (also Winn) gives Rae an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the parent-friendly company. As Sophie is asked how she could contemplate putting her passions before her children, she responds, "I want them to have a mother who has a meaningful life". In another retort, she tackles gender stereotyping: "[The kids are] at home with their dad. If he went off to work, no one would bat an eyelid."

A little too on the nose for some perhaps, but movement director Karin Fisher-Potisk has added some more abstract concepts, notably the two Sophies dancing together, pushing and pulling against their different desires. Ehnold-Danailov lends a tenderness and accuracy to the portrayals of the children in the piece, making the playing ages largely irrelevant. She also works in lots of sudden, small expressions which cut deep - as Gemma remarks to her mother "You haven't got a work" because she doesn't have a typical office job, Sophie's face briefly drops, and the feeling of being absolutely crushed stays with you long after the mother has forced a smile. There are plenty of fleeting touches which keep this emotional rather than manipulative.

This is a play which will particularly resonate with parents, or even anyone who has ever tried to juggle too much and failed. It's not that Prams in the Hall exclusively work with parents or perform just for them, but they do try to make theatre more accessible for those who wouldn't otherwise have the time or opportunity. Although The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor isn't perfect, it's compelling and anything which keeps the stage from being elitist is surely to be applauded.

The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor opened on 3rd June and runs until 8th June 2014 at The Space.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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