views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Caravan and Pin
White Bear Theatre
28th January 2015


Natalie Lester, Sophie Mackenzie and Ryan J Brown as Leanne, Rosie and Brandon in Caravan

Photography provided by West Avenue Theatre Company

Family, eh. Who'd 'ave 'em? In West Avenue's double bill of new writing, Shaun Kitchener and Roberta Morris explore sisterhood by really testing those bonds in quite extreme circumstances. For example, When you're feeling completely overwhelmed, fight or flight instinct kicks in, and that can make running away seem like a really good option. But when you end up faking your own death to hide from your problems, that's taking the idea of flight a bit far, and doesn't normally end well. Just ask the Darwins.

Kicking off the night, in Kitchener's play Caravan, a bewildered and angry Helen (Morris) isn't sure what to do for the best when she discovers her sister Leanne (Natalie Lester) isn't in fact dead, just living in a run-down caravan a few hours away. We find out very early on that at least one of the protagonists is hiding something, and over the course of the 50 minutes, Kitchener drip feeds us clues, building up to one almighty reveal. For the most part, it is pitched as a light-hearted comedy but there are a few chilling moments, with Caravan ultimately intriguing.

Despite the play's name, it's not actually evident from the set that most of the action takes place in a mobile home, although perhaps we've been spoilt by fringe theatre that has actually taken place in a caravan (We'll Call Him Pim). And not only are there the usual budgetary constraints to consider, but the lack of specific anchor in the design does make it easier for the flashbacks to run into real time. A shift in lighting is all it takes - time and action are very fluid throughout, with director Sheila Atim expertly manipulating them. Atim in particular beautifully frames the story when past and present collide in the conclusion.

Kitchener's female characterisation is strong. There's a realistic sibling dynamic between Helen and Leanne, a lovely tenderness between Helen and Rosie (Sophie Mackenzie) - even Tracy (Jamie-Rose Monk) with her minimal on-stage time feels well-developed, with her blasé chat masking a more ingrained and just-so approach. Although that said, Monk is equally wonderful in Pin, so at least part of her character's success may be down to the actress herself and Atim, who directs both plays. By contrast, the character of Brandon (Ryan J Brown) initially feels awkward and wooden rather than simply cold, and this is probably the weakest aspect of the play.

There's a reasonable number of twists and turns for a fringe length play, and like in Kitchener's previous work, Positive, he shows a knack for creating some very believable and human reactions in difficult scenarios.

Frances Eva Lea and Paul Heelis as Lou and Dave in Pin

Photography provided by West Avenue Theatre Company

The cast (and then some) all return in Pin, with this second, longer show written by Morris. There are times when you have no idea where she is going with the storyline - and possibly neither did she given that the ending feels sudden and rushed. It's a bit like we've fast-forwarded half a year without any warning. Nonetheless, it's an interesting journey with some very well-developed characters. And the ending is gloriously jubilant.

After embezzling £50k for the funsies, would-be new Muslim convert Rach (Mackenzie) is ready to leave jail and go back to her old life. Problem is, her old life doesn't want her. Her mother Anne (Chrissie White) is equal parts scared and disgusted, and her sister Lou (Frances Eva Lea) doesn't want to see her either. Lou's live-in boyfriend Dave (Paul Heelis) persuades her to give Rach another chance, immediately leading to disruption, anger and upset.

Rach is thoroughly toxic, and yet you feel like she can't really help it - that her personality demands she must try to ruin other people's lives. She can't be content simply being, she has to do something destructive, and for some reason, you do sympathise with her faults and yearn for her redemption. This doesn't mean she's your favourite, you feel a similar pull towards Lou, who despite the angry words feels an inherent sense of responsibility towards Rach and can't - as much as she'd like to - truly walk away.

As well as looking at the relationship between Rach and Lou, there's a subplot involving all of Rach's much posher friends. The accents suggest they're caricatures, but if you've ever run in those circles, you'll appreciate how accurate these broken characters are. They're more privileged than Lou and her family, but behind their very expensive gold-plated closed doors, their lives are equally messy. There's a love triangle between vivacious Binks (Monk) and brooding Archey (Matthew Cosgrove), who happens to be married to another woman. There's also a love-hate relationship between Harriet (Morris) and Harold (Brown).

These two storylines intertwine in Pin - sometimes more successfully than others - and add plenty of humour and the occasional moment of utter bleakness. There are no clear cut villains in this show, and that's what makes it so easy to get into. It helps that Atim's direction is as crisp in this second show as the first.

A few tweaks may be needed to make them both pin-sharp (excuse the pun) yet as they stand, they resonate warmth even if the execution sometimes lets them down.

Caravan and Pin ran from 27th to 31st January 2015 at the White Bear Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Kennington (Northern)

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