Monday, April 22

Earwig – Assembly Rooms

Impeccable timing, fine acting and sustained energy are what make this short play well worthy of a five-star rating.  Too short really, I couldn’t believe an hour had passed so quickly and left the venue wanting more.

This perky play, set in the silent movie era of the roaring ‘20s, tells the story of Marigold.  Now a young woman, Marigold has been deaf since the age of five after contracting meningitis, she now lip reads and speaks perfectly.   Although never formally qualified, Marigold has a passion for insects and has become an expert in the field of entomology.  She lives with her mother, a snobbish northern woman with aspirations for herself and her daughter that have nothing to do with Marigold’s passion for creepy crawlies.   She marries Marigold off to Nicholas, a manipulative, patronising control freak who refers to Marigold as a “cripple”.   What brings the joy into Marigold’s life is her nerdy friend, Thomas Dollman, “Dolly”, who tells her of his travels in Egypt and brings her an interesting specimen in a jar.  Part earwig, part Scarab beetle – what is it?   Identification of the creature calls for investigative trips to the library, where she meets lively flapper, Bryony Varden.  Miss Varden is a feminist before the word was invented, works for Marconi and loves stripping down and repairing cars.  The two women become friends, Dolly encourages Marigold to address the Royal Society of Entomologists and the real reason Nicholas took Marigold as his wife is revealed.

“Earwig” is written and designed by Laura Crow, who is herself hearing impaired.  The play is directed with great precision by Catherine Cowdrey and Samantha Vaughan.  The five characters are played by three actors, Adam Martin-Brooks as Nicholas and Dolly, Beth Nolan as Marigold’s mother and Bryony Varden and Marigold is played by Robyn Greeves, who is also partially deaf.   The set is simple, two chairs and a long box which doubles as a container for props and a seat.  There is a screen behind the actors, projecting images and lines as if from a silent movie.   The costumes are typical of the era with the minimal changes from one character to another being achieved with slick simplicity.   In any case, it is not the donning of a pair of glasses that lets us know Dolly is now on stage, or the removal of a crochet shawl that tells us Bryony is present; Martin-Brooks and Nolan convincingly portray their characters, switching seamlessly between them without ever exaggerating their differences.  Martin-Brooks is menacing and creepy as Nicholas and delightfully school-boyish as the enthusiastic Dolly, while Nolan is all Hyacinth Bucket as the mother and feisty liberated woman as Bryony.   Greeves is bright, open and optimistic as Marigold. 

The pace of this piece never flags.  The screen is used to great effect, and sometimes the actors mime speech, with a white noise being played to represent what Marigold is hearing.  The passing of time is indicated by choreographed, perfectly timed movement.  This is not a play about disability, there is no “poor me”; there is humour, hope, joy and flawless performances.

“Earwig” is on until 27th August at The Assembly Rooms, Front Room, George Street,

Reviewer: H. S. Baker

Reviewed: 23rd August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★