Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Grass - Theatre Review

What: Grass
When: 24 - 27 February 2020
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Yvonne Martin
Performed by: Stephanie Daniel and Sarah Oldmeadow
Sarah Oldmeadow and Stephanie Daniel
Grass is one of the new theatre pieces taking part in The Butterfly Club's new One Act Play Festival. It is an examination of how friendship is hard work once you leave the hothouse of education and start making independent decisions and choices.

There are no programs for shows at The Butterfly Club so I may end up making assumptions which are not correct here because my Google stalking skills are a bit fallible. From what I can gather though, Grass is Martin's first play. If this is true, it is a very, very good effort. The structure is good and the character development good. The only thing it lacks is action...which is a bit of a problem for theatre I admit.

I have mentioned this before, but I don't think 2 people talking on stage is inherently interesting no matter how engaging the conversation is. Theatre is a visual medium so there needs to be something to look at. I also think if, as an actor, you find yourself sitting down for more than half the play you need to explore your skills directory, but I will talk about that later.

First I want to talk about the story. Oldmeadow plays a stay at home mother of 2 children. Daniel is a child free modern woman living a life of independence and without obligation. These characters met in college (I think?) and became firm friends over a Eurovision drinking game.

After graduation though, they made significantly different life choices and after Oldmeadow's character had her first child, Daniel's character felt invisible. Over time they both started turning to other people instead of each other for love and support. They are meeting up after several years of absence and the play investigates how they come to terms with who they were, who they are, and who they want to be.

Grass is perhaps a slight misnomer for the play because I don't think either of these women envy the life choices of the other. The grass isn't greener on the other side for either of them, it is more that both resent the idea that they were ghosted by the other and are struggling with misconceptions of what happened and why.

I don't like the way mothers and child free women are pitted against each other in our culture, and I also don't like how mothers groups are portrayed as bitchy and competitive. I have a sneaking suspicion these are tropes propogated by the patriarchy to make women distrustful of each other.

Sadly, Grass does feed into this narrative. As a child free woman I have found my friends which are mothers have been very inclusive, and their mothers groups have been essential for maintaining their sanity and also knowledge sharing.

If we disregard my personal opinions though, Grass is a well structured play. It works in flashback mode and focuses on key ocurrances which show the trajectory of the friendship and how the two women find themselves so estranged. The tension, pace and climax build beautifully and would probably make a better short film than a piece of theatre.

Daniel and Oldmeadow have excellent acting skills although it is more head based than body based. Daniel in particular, has incredibly expressive eyes which would be perfect for the camera!

Or perhaps the lack of physical dynamism is the restriction of the play and the staging? Once again I find myself at a theatre show where a table has centre stage. What is so interesting about that table which makes it earn the most powerful position? There has been some attempts to break the frame with Oldmeadow and Daniel sitting on the front edge of the stage for intimate moments but that just cuts them off from anyone sitting towards the back of the room.

There are some logic problems too. For some reason, in the two monologue scenes the other woman leaves the stage, but this makes no sense. They are still in the cafe - it is just a step outside of reality and into the minds of the women. A tried but true simple freeze for the other actor would make the piece flow more freely by a good 100%.

I try to avoid commenting on production if there is no design team but I am going to complain about the sound in this show. For some unknown reason they have soft music playing in the background for the whole show. It is soooooooooooo annoying. I assume it is because the women are in a cafe, but it keeps playing through the flashbacks and interior monologues too! I really had to continually fight myself to not stand up and ask the tech to please turn it off.

Remember, your sound design has to point to the same things as the play is pointing too. If you are being diagetic then you need to be consistent and accurate. I will stop their, although I would suggest the team go into a cafe some time and listen to what is actually played.

I feel like it sounds as if I am panning Grass, but I am not really. I am just saying it is not good theatre yet. It needs a director and a designer to bring a 3 dimensional life to the staging. However this is far more than simply an off book staged reading. Oldmeadow and Daniel are certainly worth watching as an excellent examples of character work and script analysis.

2.5 Stars

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