Writer Anna Reynolds drew on her own personal experience when she wrote about the fictional character Shirley Jones. The character is based upon the true story related to her by her fellow inmate that the teenage Reynolds met whilst she was in prison. The Writers Guild gave Reynolds the Best Play of 1992 Award, and at Buxton Fringe Festival 2019, the play was nominated for the Best Play Award and Sara Gray won the Award for Best Actress.
Produced by Easy Company, the play is set in 1987 and begins with Sara Gray sitting in an easy chair, feet crossed ready to tell us a fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin to be exact. This is a tale of a bargain between a father who promises a King that his daughter can weaver straw into gold in exchange for him marrying his daughter, and a little man who says that he can perform this miracle if the Queen gives him her first born child. This story telling is interweaved into the play and it becomes clearer later on, why.
The real-life story of Shirley Jones (Sara Gray) begins whilst she sits in the Courthouse waiting for her case to heard. She has been awaiting trial whilst being assessed by psychiatrists amongst other experts, to see whether she is mentally fit to stand trial. Whilst she is waiting, she looks back on how she got to be here. We hear that her father died when she was 11 and was violent to her and her mother. Her mother struggled to bring Shirley up on her own and there was very little communication between the two of them. Shirley has a promiscuous adolescence until she meets Dave who she thinks is going to take her away from all this into the sunset on his motorbike. After she finds out she’s pregnant things soon change between them and she sees the true side to his character, and her life begins to unravel.
The sad tale of her life with her baby, Jordan, is not an easy listen. We know that this is no fairy tale, and that for poor Shirley, she will not get the fairy tale ending she had wished for. It soon becomes apparent that Gray richly deserved to win her Buxton Fringe Best Actress Award and she builds on the remarkable script to create a monologue that strips away all hope for Shirley to have happiness. Like the Queen in the fairy story, Shirley feels she has no control of her life and as it spins out of control, she sees no other way out.
The piece is all the more devastating as we know that the story is based upon a real person’s experience, and the pain is outwardly projected by Gray’s extraordinarily realistic delivery. Director Robbie Carnegie quite rightly keeps the set simple; this is a story that needs no assistance for dramatic effect, the hopelessness of Shirley and Jordan Jones’ lives are enough for the emotionally punch-drunk audience.
Even though this play is not an easy listen, it is something that we must listen to and shows the importance of theatre in telling these stories that tend to become statistics without faces or names.
This show was part of GM Fringe and was only showing for one night. To learn more about Easy Company go to their website https://www.easycompanytheatre.com/
To book tickets for shows at ‘The King’s Arms Theatre’ go to http://www.kingsarmssalford.com/whats-on/
And for a ‘What’s On Guide’ to the GM Fringe Festival, go to – https://manchester.ssboxoffice.com/events/?
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 15th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★