Connection – Review – Harrogate Studio Theatre
By Richard Mansfield, October 2019
Hosting a debut for ‘local girl’ and accomplished writer, Rachael Halliwell, appearing in her own first full length play, at Harrogate’s Studio auditorium, it was unfortunate that her performance and those of the cast coincided with a sold-out show, involving a popular nationally-known comedian, in the adjacent main theatre.
The expectations of the two audiences were very different indeed and the moods, at the interval, of the two groups noticeably contrasting. Unfortunately, the hubbub outside the ‘Studio’ at interval time penetrated the rather serious tone at the beginning of the second act of Connection, being it one involving an injured drunk.
Located in Yorkshire and rather adventurously attempting two main sets within the narrative, one being a waiting area within Harrogate District Hospital and the other that of the seafront at Scarborough, the juxtaposition and rather minimalist settings felt rather confusing at times. Just actually where were we when the venue changed? The seagull sound effects sometimes did not maintain sufficient or strong enough reminder.
“Laced with clever humour”
This play was trailed by the playwright herself as a “Yorkshire Thelma and Louise” but it rather felt at the end to have been a misleading and unhelpful allusion to that film. Connection seemed to be dealing with far more serious and personal issues than the two American women fleeing arrest for a killing in their journey of feminine assertion and emancipation.
These issues, serious ones which were dropped into the exchanges between Catherine (Rachael Halliwell) and Elaine (Cathy Breeze), seemed a bit sudden and contrived very early on, with rather bald and sudden disclosures from Catherine to the ingenuous and homely Elaine, the receptacle for her abrasive and exploitative nature.
At one point Catherine declares her nature to be abrasive, as if this were necessary, for Rachael Halliwell displays this characteristic so very demonstratively in her portrayal of the role. Indeed, despite any nod to what appears to have been a dystopian upbringing, she remains, like the Sheriff of Nottingham perhaps, apparently heartless and most certainly the villain of the piece.
Within this play, which is laced occasionally with clever humour, such features and topics as emotional blackmail, suicidal intent, dementia, euthanasia, the spreading of ashes, wretched male drunkeness and dystopian family history, with its unfortunate imprints and impacts, are all put before the audience.
There is much in this play that is delivered from seated positions, perhaps to be expected given what is being presented, so much so that Steve’s (played by Andrew Turner) exposition of near drunken paralysis, a task that he seems to put his heart and soul into, renders it bordering on a pantomime piece; at one point I was really willing it to stop!
Despite its occasional humour and wry observations of our foibles, failings and attitudes, this proved to be a rather ‘heavy’ piece of drama that at times was painfully observational but delivered rather than felt; brutal and lacking some subtlety or natural progression in its dialogue, before bouncing in a serious topic.
My companion’s observation about the play? “Perhaps it could have more appropriately been titled ‘Confession’.” A moot point maybe?
A nice design touch was the multicoloured stripes up the staircase, into the studio and reaching the stage. How many times have we followed them on hospital visits with one colour branching off to X-ray, another to Haematology and yet another to Wards 1-10?
Perhaps, as a low-ended septuagenarian, I am missing something that others far younger than I will appreciate and enjoy but, notwithstanding the issues running through this play, I left rather underwhelmed, neither feeling amused nor especially challenged. Perhaps, like Thelma and Louise, it would more suit a film format.
images: Malcolm Johnson / @malcij