New Theatre, September 9
Ana jumped in front of the speeding train called life, and was buffeted down the tracks for the next 80 years. Her stoicism, humour, resilience and courage light up Neighbourhood Watch more than her grudges and stubbornness cloud it, so she emerges as something of a beacon for surviving tough times. Director Louise Fischer has had to survive them, too, observing social-distancing constraints while wrangling a cast of 11 on Tom Bannerman’s set.
Set in two houses on either side of a suburban street, Lally Katz’s 2011 play performs a marvellous sleight of hand by pretending to be naturalistic, while stretching the audience’s imagination with increasingly fluid transitions between time, place, reality, memories and fantasies.
Ana (Colleen Cook) has been tempered like steel by the horrors of World War II in Hungary and her prolonged plight as a refugee. She lives alone with Bella, a lapdog-devouring Alsatian-Doberman that may have cleared the theatre had she been seen as well as heard. So Ana’s just the ticket to give earthy advice to 20-something Catherine (Kelly Robinson), who irons underwear rather than facing her grief.
Katz could have used more shorthand in establishing this odd-couple friendship, and thereafter the delivery can be a nudge slow. Ana is the play’s heart, having done more living than the rest of the characters put together, and Cook has that heart beating and pumping, even if her pacing could be more varied. Nonetheless her performance remains ironclad when the play starts to buck and jolt and intensify.
Robinson and Stephen Lloyd-Coombs (as Ken, Catherine’s besotted housemate) make their casual early scenes work well, but, like most of the actors, they let the seams show as the stakes up upped. The exception is John van Putten in the minor role of a Russian soldier, having previously excelled as Ana’s amiable and obliging chemist. One feels for the cast, trying to cohere in taxing circumstances. If they can vary the tempo, and collectively rise to the later challenges as Cook does, this could prove an effective antidote to the COVID blues.
Regarding audience social-distancing protocols, the general-admission seating meant one just good-naturedly shooed away anyone who sat too close. Having Jovanka (Susan Jordan) coughing during an entry through the auditorium seemed slightly dodgy, however.
Until October 3.