Nan and Rita and The Holy Grail: Carolyn Lincoln (writer), Adam Tomkins (director).
Field of Opportunity: Jim Brown (writer), Liz Hare (director).
All: Stewart Emm (sound design), Allan Rhynas (lighting). Flier by Eric Robinson.
Nan and Rita and The Holy Grail: Lynne Maccallum Hall (Nan), Estrid Barton (Rita).
Field of Opportunity: Stephanie Falls (Bella), Megan Gamber (Jess), Ian Smith (Danny), Kirsty Strain (Mary & Holly Berry).
Citadel Arts Group brings a triple-bill entitled Drama At The Dockers, performing for the ninth consecutive year at the lively, community-focused Leith Festival.
Artistic Director Liz Hare has been leading the Workers’ Educational Association Playwrights Workshops, supporting members to share their stories and memories, unlock their creativity and develop their creative writing skills. Emerging out of their latest programme are three very different scripts, performed as rehearsed readings over three days at the Leith Dockers Club.
The first performance is Beyond The Ash Lagoon, written by Susan Chaney and directed by Liz Hare. Themes of grief and loss, and the layering of changes over time that impact on the landscape and the people within it, are explored through the relationship of two sisters. Now in their fifties, the two meet in a remote cottage in Cornwall in a place filled with memories of their childhood. One sister is trying to come to terms with the sudden death of her husband, but both find they have overwritten memories of the past with false narratives that need to be reconciled.
Time shifts back and forth as the dialogue in the present is interspersed with flash-backs from the past. Others characters drift in and out, taking up the narration of past events, connecting and locking them firmly within the sense of this particular place that, like the two sisters, has undergone change and loss: the now-ruined tin mine, the all-but disappeared fishing industry.
The narrative parts of the writing, with descriptions of the trees, gorse and bracken, the sounds of the sky and the sea, is vivid and lyrical and beautifully evoked by both Suzanne Dance and Adam Tomkins in their various roles. The dialogue between the two sisters is slick and punchy, played with humour and pathos by Audrey Jenkinson and Rachel Amy. This is a play with many layers, leaving the themes lingering in the air long after the actors have left the stage.
The second performance, Nan and Rita and The Holy Grail, written by Carolyn Lincoln and directed Adam Tomkins, is a total contrast. A two-hander between Lynne Maccallum Hall (known to many from Still Game off the telly!) as Nan, and Estrid Barton as Rita, this is bawdy fun and frolics from start to finish. Opening in a supermarket café and finishing down the community centre, the two potty-mouthed OAPs gossip about their neighbours – one of them found the Holy Grail on the bus on the way back from Straiton, cue hilarious anecdote – and discuss cakes, love and lust. The two women match each other for laughs and nonsense all the way, in a riotous hour of pure entertainment that ends with them pulling blokes up on stage for a bit of a dance and passing round the nibbles, the music blaring, the party atmosphere complete.
Finally there is Field of Opportunity, written by Jim Brown and again directed by Liz Hare. When teenage Jess escapes from London to see Auntie Bella, she gets more than she bargained for when she finds it’s tattie-picking season. For Jess and the other women it’s dirty, back-breaking work, but the days are also full of camaraderie and teasing banter, the evenings spent sharing whisky and memories.
This is a strong cast, once again refreshingly dominated by female voices, with Kirsty Strain in particular showing great versatility as she switches between the seemingly strait-laced, moved-up-in-the-world Ms Berry and the raucous old crone Mary. The dialogue zips along and the occasional rousing tattie-song keeps the spirits aloft. The ending, however, felt like we’d left the story part-way through – perhaps there is more of this story to come?
The Leith Dockers Club, as always, is the perfect venue for these play shorts. The audience is almost wholly local, genuinely engaged and warmly enthusiastic about seeing live theatre smack in the heart of their own communities. For those who did not manage to catch Drama At The Dockers, Citadel Arts Group will be performing Dancing With Mrs Murphy as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, at the Leith Dockers Club from 13th to 16th August.