For some reason, in the mid Eighties, my Dad started collecting plates. The sorts of plates that were regularly advertised in the back of glossy Sunday magazines. They were hideous. Many of them were wall mounted around the house and when family parties or sisters pretending to be The Nolans got a bit boisterous, my mother could be heard crying “Watch the plates!”
I was reminded of this in the opening scene of Peripeteia Theatre’s Twenty Today in which we meet 19-year-old Peter Clapton (Joseph Harding) and his Aunt Holly ‘Dave’ Clapton (Solaya Sang) on the eve of his 20th birthday. He is preparing for his house party, she has a date. There is immediate warmth and connection between Harding and Sang as the orphaned boy-about-to-be-man and the sister of his dead mother, who has now raised him for half of his life. They bicker about Abba, laugh at her home décor, gossip about party guests. Peter has the classic pre party nervous/excited host stress, his Aunt is reassuring, wise and vibrant…. and very concerned her wall mounted plate collection may not survive the party intact. I was concerned too.
What follows is a piece of theatre which observes the ending of teenage years, reflects on adolescence and the realization that change is constant, and ‘life’ is beckoning. It expresses that friendships can be both fragile and strong simultaneously. Joined by promising newcomer Lee Pyrah, as Laurie and latecomer Joshua Chadwick, impressively standing in for the performance as Mike, the friends each experience a peripeteia, a turning point, a crossroads.
The plates are symbolic. They are a visual reminder of the many and varied places that Aunt Dave has visited in her life before the tragic loss of her sister left her to mother her orphaned nephew. They act as tempting glimpses into the places these young people could find themselves travelling. They represent both past and the future. The idea is good, but the execution less successful.
This piece of theatre is cast well with strong performances all round. The drama moves with well-judged pace and genuine rapport. The writing, which offered both humour and poignancy at times, and did convey human pain and compassion in moments, is underdeveloped and needs a tighter grip on the narrative – too many elements of the narrative just didn’t add up or work effectively. Flash points and key moments did not build enough to support the moment of impact or connection. Nonetheless, there was some promise in Seb Gardiner’s first full length piece.
The biggest concern for me was the absolute lack of visual design or directional imagination in both using the space and building key moments. The piece was presented ‘end on’ in the gorgeous King’s Arms but the set looked like it had been thrown together from a sixth form common room. I felt the production could have used the space so much more effectively. Personally, I would have gone for an Arena shape or In the Round and included the audience as part of the party, drawing them right into the intimate moments. The direction lacked shape and visual imagination and the whole production would have benefitted from some design input ……. and I would have hung the plates from the beautiful beams because attaching them precariously to a curtain backdrop not only undermined their importance symbolically, but it allowed my mother’s voice to whisper “Watch the plates!” anxiously in my ear throughout.
Reviewer: Lou Kershaw
Reviewed: 1st September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★