Shutters at Finsbury Park’s year-and-a-bit-old Park Theatre is a triptych of plays that highlight women’s journey over the last century.
The short plays, directed by Jack Thorpe Baker (two of 30 minutes, the final one of 50 minutes) are loosely linked by themes of family, community and Americanness (as well as their femaleness), but otherwise are stand alone set pieces that, despite some heavy subject matter, tell neat, witty, largely captivating stories.
The first, Cast of Characters by Philip Dawkins, is a deconstructed play seen from the backend, the framework a run-through for a play we never see. It’s dizzingly fast-paced and takes a while to untangle, the all-female cast oscillating between the many roles of both genders while an unseen playwright’s dismembered voice occasionally interrupts their read-through with her asides. Essentially it’s a play about rehearsing a play, but it’s far more fun than that sounds and almost certainly a lot more entertaining than the play that’s been rehearsed that centres on a dysfunctional family very much in the vein of American literature.
The conceit allows for a playfulness that the heavy subject matter of the play being read-through wouldn’t have allowed. There are excellent performances from the all-female cast, in particular from Nicola Blackman who brings a comedic touch to a miserable MS sufferer stuck in a love-less marriage, and Lucia McAnespie as the chirpy 80-year-old Bernice.
The second play, Trifles, downshifts in mood and hurtles back in time to the beginning of last century and a rural community rocked by an apparent murder, suspicion falling on dead man’s wife. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Susan Glaspell, Trifles is often hailed as one of theatre’s first feminist plays. A hundred and two years after it was written, Trifles may have lost much of its shock, horror feminism, but its themes are still all too familiar.
Trifles sees three puffed-up men stumbling about trying to find clues in a suspected murder case, mocking the two women present, one a friend of the suspect and the other the sheriff’s wife, for concentrating on the seemingly trifle – the condemned woman’s needlework, her preserved fruit, THAT jewellery box. Of course, their feminine observations unearth far more than the men’s arrogant jackbooted stomp. The play weaves together as beautifully as a well stitched piece of patchwork and is genuinely thrilling.
The final play, Brooke Allen’s The Deer is, despite the inclusion of a talking deer (a very endearing Joanna Kirkland), the most conventional. A messed up bad boy, his college professor channelling Robin Williams as he tries to get him to dream bigger, his pretty older sister (an excellent Yolanda Kettle), herself stuck in a deadend job in a small town. That things don’t end well is never in doubt, but the ending has a neat little twist that adds a less predictable element.
The six all-female cast members are all highly watchable and engaging in which ever role they’re playing – and their American accents seem pretty faultless to me – while Jack Thorpe Baker’s direction is slick and well-paced, the tempo of the three play format working well in the intimate Park 90 space. The premise – showcasing the female experience over the past century – may sound heavyweight, but Shutters carries it lightly, but no less seriously making for an entertaining, interesting evening.
by Suzanne Elliott