Simon Ward reviews thread at The Hope Theatre
In this new play, writer Freya Anderson weaves together two currently resonant themes One is the #metoo movement and, in particular, the treatment of young actresses by powerful older men in the film and theatre world. The other is the challenge of families dealing with frail, elderly parents who are losing their grip on reality, afflicted by Alzheimer’s, dementia or stroke.
The play is set in the flat owned by Vivian Gibson (Christina Balmer). She is the daughter of Peter Gibson (Eric Carte), a renowned film director, who now lives with her as he is succumbing to dementia and is no longer able to look after himself. During the course of the play we also meet her agent, Ian Semenya (Christopher Jenner-Cole), and her younger half-sister Margo (Maya-Nika Bewley).
As the play unfolds, family tensions emerge between the siblings – Vivian is a successful actress, whose agent is excited about new parts on the horizon, but Margo has yet to work out what she wants to do with her life.
Looming over both is the overbearing presence of their father – a luvvie of the old school, but we sense that under the bonhomie lurks a ruthless ambition. And he clings onto his Oscar like a drowning man clinging to a lifebelt. He moves between moments of lucidity, flashback replays of his glory days and then moments of blank, abject terror. Eric Carte delivers a masterclass in mercurial acting as he shifts from one mood to the next, without losing sight of the frail old man at the centre of a storm he can no longer control. The writing here is also pitch perfect.
When a story breaks in the media that an actress is alleging abuse at the hands of their father, the fragile coalition starts to disintegrate. Maya empathises with the victim, a woman of her own age, and believes her. Vivian refuses to believe that their father could be guilty, in spite of the evidence from their own childhood – Maya was the result of one of his many affairs when married to Vivian’s mother. She hunkers down in the flat with the press camped outside and waits for the storm to blow over. She sabotages her career and tensions grow with an increasingly frustrated agent as she refuses to take on work that would mean leaving her father or take a stand on his alleged offences.
Photo by Beverley Anne
Director Veronica Quilligan makes good use of the space – the audience forms the walls of the flat, and we are thoroughly immersed in the action. However, some attempts to include media (projected tweets, a rather badly Photoshopped photograph in pride of place on the wall) feel clunky, and would have benefited from more work. The difficulties of representing wealth and luxury within the confines of a fringe venue and budget were apparent. The daughters say they are rich and famous, and that their father is a national treasure, but it just doesn’t feel like it. But if they are, could they not use that wealth to move their father out of this claustrophobic situation?
As the play works to its conclusion, there are no easy answers to the questions raised. In the end, it is an interesting and thought-provoking piece, but perhaps not moving in the way it hopes to be.
thread is running at The Hope Theatre, Upper Street, Islington, until 7th December.