BLOG Brian Roper

NWR Issue 101

Parallel Lines, Chapter, Cardiff, 21 November 2013

Dirty Protest in association with Chapter
Writer: Katherine Chandler

This is a play about wrongdoing and revenge. It has a twist in its tail and we are left to ponder a conundrum which, whilst expressed contemporarily, is actually eternal. Which is the lesser of two evils?

To reached the expected conclusion requires a belief in the characterisation, principally that of Steph, an aggrieved adolescent girl (played by Rachel Redford). Her portrayal promised much but the script does not sufficiently underpin her character. The choices which Steph faces are not real enough to create the moral tension required.

Two households are set side by side but they are worlds apart. Steph and her mother Melissa (Jan Anderson) live together. No father is evident but the mother’s men-friends are around. The scene is one of orthodox dysfunctionality. This is rancid milk land. The mother is living a very full life, has a well-grounded fear of authority and has lost any influence or control over her 15-year-old daughter. Something happens at school, accusations are made, enquiries are undertaken and not satisfied: revenge is taken. The language is ripely vernacular although the full vocabulary is, surprisingly, not deployed.

Parallel to this, Steph’s teacher, Simon (Gareth Pierce) is living an apparently ‘normal’ life with his wife of ten years and fellow teacher, Julia (Lisa Diveney), in a well ordered if soulless and childless home. This is cafetière country. But Julia is having her own problems at school. This mundane scene is rocked by events which connect Steph and Simon, and the household descends into acrimony and recrimination.

Rachel Redford as Steph took a while to warm up but got there in the end. The Keerdiff accent was not vintage Canton and the Ali G hand gestures jarred. Lines such as ‘I’m a teenager, you know what we’re like’ didn’t help. However there was real dramatic control and the portrayal of anger and sexuality was compelling. It does, however, strain credibility to hear this character quote John MacCrae (‘In Flanders Fields’) and Edmund Burke (Evil prevails…).

Steph’s mother, Melissa, was played by Jan Anderson and her depiction was real enough to have set me wondering where I had met her. Whether natural or acquired, the accent was perfect and her portrayal of the ‘sluttish’ mother was excellent down to the coordinated leopardskin slippers, dressing gown and handbag. The encouragement to her daughter to ‘learn yourself’ and to ‘get some exams’ was authentic, as was her bullying cowardice.

Lisa Diveny, playing Julia, was rather buttoned up and somewhat overshadowed by the histrionics of Steph and her mother. Hers is a world of book clubs, poetry slams, hessian shopping bags and Radio 6 Music. When she gets a chance to reveal a more edgy side to her nature, the opportunity is taken. There is a potential which this script does not liberate.

Steph’s teacher, Simon, is an enigmatic character. Initially methodical, even fussy, the role demands a descent into mania and despair. Gareth Pierce is better at mania than house husbandry. Given the events in Steph’s place, it was always going to be a challenge to make banality interesting.

The set was simple but effective, providing for a Weskerian kitchen sink drama and a well made play in split screen. The radio backround music provided a context which initially assisted but subsequently became intrusive.

Parallel Lines exposed a real issue well worthy of serious exploration and it was presented with conviction and skill but had the chance been taken to more fully validate its central proposition, it would have been much more convincing.

Brian Roper is an NWR online contributor


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