Hope Theatre – until 17 October 2015
Guest reviewer: Liz Dyer
Two stories of disappointment and loneliness come together in the first UK revival of The Window and Blank Pages, single-act plays by playwright Frank Marcus (perhaps best known for his play The Killing of Sister George). Lovingly directed by the writer’s granddaughter, Rafaella Marcus of Mingled Yarn, the pieces deal with similar themes, and despite being written three years apart, they’re presented in a seamless single production that ultimately suggests they may be connected by more than their subject matter.
In The Window, Robert Tremayne, who’s blind and bed-ridden since a failed suicide attempt, hires a new assistant to do just one thing for him: spy on the activities of the young woman living opposite, who he’s known for many years and who has now become his only reason for living, even though she seems constantly to disappoint him.
This is followed immediately by Blank Pages, a one-woman play, in which a resigned Carole examines her old diaries and describes how her life has seemed to lurch from one disaster to another, remembering particularly a doomed stint as an au pair in France. It’s never explicitly stated, but there’s a hint that Carole could be the very same young woman we’ve just been hearing about in The Window. Each play draws a moving portrait of its central character, but does so with an injection of gentle humour that often catches the audience unawares.
This is particularly true of the second piece, and my favourite of the two, Blank Pages. Megan Salter is charming as Carole, delivering her story direct to the audience with a chatty style and self-deprecating wit that earn her a lot of laughs. But underneath the brave smile we can see the pain and vulnerability of a naive young woman who wants life to be perfect, but somehow just can’t seem to get it right, no matter what she does.
Photo Credit Jack Blackburn
In contrast to the controlled emotion of Blank Pages, The Window is a much more openly passionate piece, focusing not only on Tremayne’s obsession with the unseen young woman, but also on his complex relationship with Ken, the ex-soldier he hires in his usual assistant’s absence. Daniel Simpson and Paul Adeyefa work together well, the dynamic between them switching constantly back and forth until you can’t tell who’s in control any more. Scott Westwood appears very briefly as Tremayne’s regular companion, Ralph – but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s a minor character; he may only have a couple of lines, but they turn out to be hugely significant ones.
In both pieces, the lighting, by Isobel Howe, and Will Alder’s sound design are used effectively to set the scene, particularly for the flashbacks that form an important part of both plays. The flickering light of the television, recalled by Carole in Blank Pages, is especially well done; so too is the soothing and ever-present sound of the waves in The Window, which allows us to picture the location of Tremayne’s home, even though we never see beyond his four walls. Rūta Irbīte’s set is ingeniously simple; a wooden frame that provides Tremayne’s window to the world, and simply folds down in seconds to become Carole’s bedroom for Blank Pages.
Short these two plays may be, but they’ve got plenty to say about a variety of issues, among them social isolation, sexuality and mental health. The decision to stage them together is interesting and adds a new dimension to the production, as each piece shines a light on the other and makes us look at it in a different way. Rafaella Marcus and Mingled Yarn have perhaps taken a gamble in choosing to revive her grandfather’s work, but it seems to be one that’s paid off.
The Window/Blank Pages – The Hope Theatre until 17th October
Guest Review by Liz Dyer