views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Time for Tea
Etcetera Theatre
30th July 2018

★★★☆☆

Abbi Douetil as Mila in Time for Tea

Photography © Chantal Guevara

At this time of year, the distance between Edinburgh and London always feels a lot shorter than 400 miles. We're two cities united by our love of the arts and we both begin to gear up for a glorious roller-coaster of a month that ultimately consists of storytelling in one form or another. It's perhaps therefore appropriate that the first show to open this year's Camden Fringe is not set in Camden Town but the Old Town - in and amongst the cobbled street of Cowgate. Lita Doolan's Time for Tea is inspired by the terrible fire that spread through the heart of the festival circuit some 15 years ago and explores what it feels like to feel completely powerless about your own future.

Vulnerable 15-year-old Mila (Abbi Douetil) has run away from home, fearful of her foster dad's imminent return and choosing to live on the streets rather than in a claustrophobically small caravan with him and and her foster mum. Mila is fierce, she's tough and at times, she's so grown up that you think you may be misjudged her age. However, her inner stream of consciousness rapidly shifts back and forth between different degrees of maturity, as she presents seriously flawed arguments to win another angry internal debate, or her thoughts turn to as innocent and pure a concept as sharing a special birthday cake with her beloved brother. In these moments, she lets down her walls and you see just how young she is. Having suddenly found herself on the streets, Mila's world becomes even scarier when her city goes up in flames - all of her secret hiding places are in ruins and her limited options become even more restricted.

Doolan invests a great deal of time in Mila's character, which comes through in Douetil's superb, well-rounded performance. Perhaps Doolan's least complex character is former journalist Max (Sean Huddlestan), who is primarily motivated by his social conscience to do the right thing and frustrated that his endeavours are not being taken seriously. Trying to unravel what makes Emily (Jenny Rowe) tick is much more of a challenge, as we silently try to assess where her priorities lie and if we believe she is trying to do what is best for her family or herself. Whilst the differences between Mila and Emily are vast, we definitely see a shared struggle and similar anxieties.

Although the link between Mila and Emily is revealed naturally, the explanation for the part that Max plays is abruptly shoehorned into his monologue. Once we get past the initial attempts to roughly shove three distinct stories together and hope that they somehow gel, the jarring is at least over and we start to better understand the connection, relaxing back into the performance. Time for Tea is a compelling piece of storytelling with no obvious trajectory, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the image of Edinburgh being rapidly crafted around them and to take the simple pleasure in just seeing where it goes. It's refreshing to not have the journey so obviously signposted and instead meander through Doolan's vision, captivated by the endless possibilities.

The simple design by Arco Parkin and Johney Fatimaharan lends itself well to a show that draws you in on the strength of one performer's words. The three actors take it in turn to take the spotlight, with the action well-paced and constantly flowing from one scene to another, unbroken. Given the style of Doolan's writing, there really is no need for anything more complicated on stage than what Parkin and Fatimaharan provide.

With only one performance during the Camden Fringe, you may have to wait to catch this show again. However, it's certainly worth making time for Doolan's work should you ever get the chance to see it.

Time for Tea ran on 30th July 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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