views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Fine Line
The New Diorama
29th July 2015


Publicity image for A Fine Line

Photography provided by the New Diorama

The concept of a middle-aged woman reminiscing over times gone by seems quite passive and dare I say it, not that interesting, but as with Of Sound Mind, Ronnie Dorsey's work has far more depth to it than her blurb would suggest. This is an hour-long monologue in which Rita (Judith Paris) shares her past with us, and reminds us that there's nothing more beautiful than love, no matter where you find it.

Director Mark Leipacher uses Rita to anthropomorphise household furniture - a cardigan becomes her dear friend, Angie, a flat cap hung on top of a tall lampshade becomes Angie's overbearing partner. It feels almost silly admitting it - Paris's very natural movement means when she scowls up at the light, we sense her disapproval, and when she edges her own chair just that tiny bit closer to Angie's, we shiver at the beauty of that passing gesture. Rita doesn't hide her emotions; she's an open book. It's just a shame that back in the day, she was apparently illiterate; never hiding her own thoughts or feelings, just unable to interpret them for herself. She's always been comfortable being herself, just never really understood what that means. From the second Paris walks on stage, she owns the role.

A large panel with a sepia print of a row of terraced houses immediately takes us to any northern town back in the 1950s, when you knew far too much about your neighbours' dirty laundry, and the idea of falling pregnant out of wedlock was a huge scandal, let alone doing so at a tender age. It's not quite the Corrie cobbles - there's no high drama tram crash or ludicrous comedy capers. That's not to suggest A Fine Line is uneventful though; rather everything that happens to Rita seems natural. If you were her at that time, what would you have done? We look back at Rita and Angie's childhood not just with the hindsight that age affords, but the privilege of living in a very different era, with all the advances in science, knowledge and tolerance. These days you might dismiss Angie's behaviour as careless or reckless - back then, fooling around with boys was more of a rite of passage.

We can immediately identify with Rita and Angie's childlike innocence - they were just a pair of ordinary schoolgirls to whom life just happened. They got on with it; they did what they had to do. Much may have happened in their intricately intertwined lives, but it feels plausible, expected and most importantly, absolutely everything in this story is driven by love. Whatever they do or don't do, they never hold back out of hate, fear or any other negative emotion. It's all about love and innocence, a rarity for a piece of theatre.

Paris is dressed as unglamorously as possible - drab colours, practical shoes - essentially wearing the age-old uniform of a grandmother, ready to swoop to a child's rescue without any notice, more concerned about looking after others than getting attention. And yet this caring woman stands in this room, in front of us, utterly alone. There are many possibilities for why that is, but we feel compelled to listen to her explain her truth, and gradually fill in the blanks of her life to date.

This deliberately isn't an explosive piece of fiction, instead it's warm, relatable and really quite credible. Sometimes the ordinary truly can be extraordinary, and Dorsey crafts a tale which builds into a thoroughly poignant crescendo of discovery. As Rita shares her heartbreak with us, we get goosebumps, completely enthralled in her words and overfilling with sympathy, in the same way we would ache for the personal sadness of a close friend or relative. Paris may play for a full house, but she's connected to each and every one of us.

A Fine Line ran on 29th July at the New Diorama. It opened on 6th August and runs until 31st August 2015 at Assembly Hall - Baillie Room, a part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Great Portland Street (Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Circle)

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