REVIEW: Between the Sheets (Royale Productions and The Large Group)

(L-R) Beth Allen and Jennifer Ward-Leyland give stunning performances.

Lessons in Love [by Sharu Delilkan]

(L-R)  Beth Allen and Jennifer Ward-Leyland give stunning performances.
(L-R) Beth Allen and Jennifer Ward-Lealand give stunning performances.

The tension was palpable from the start. Between the Sheets opens with a go-getting high-flying power suit-wearing woman Marion (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) grilling her son’s teacher Teresa (Beth Allen) on his successes, failures, weaknesses and future.

The beauty of Canadian playwright Jordi Mand’s writing is that we think we know the premise of the show, fraught with drama and conflict, but very quickly realise that this is not the case. The subsequent beautifully crafted dialogue skilfully tips a seesaw of emotion and power through repeated bombshells of revelation.

The opening night audience was clearly pleased in the knowledge that that they were in good hands, given the calibre of the leading ladies on show tonight. But the icing on the cake was that unlike many shows that promise and under deliver, Between the Sheets promised and over delivered in spades.

The minimal production values cleverly highlighted the Mand’s writing skill and the tautness of the play’s tension as a whole.

I particularly liked that modern dialogue, tempered with political correctness, and riddled with timeless themes. Mand’s skilful writing style startlingly contrasts these themes of conciliation, anger, possessiveness, marriage trials and tribulations versus that of new love and the potential opportunity for a new start. The pressured confrontation that embodies the script is beautifully juxtaposed by the acerbic wit that Ward-Lealand’s character provides. Allen was flawless in her portrayal of a younger teacher finding the love and support that she yearned. Ward-Lealand’s performance is equally compelling, making us as audience members appreciate the gravity of responsibility unshared.

The set made up of children’s furniture and joyful pictures on the walls highlights the actors’ emotions and interaction more acutely and is a constant reminder of what’s ultimately at stake.

Mand’s writing is impeccable as it seamlessly deals with a plethora of issues including betrayal, love, loyalty, responsibility, shame and guilt, all in the space of just over an hour.

The honesty of Sophie Roberts’ direction comes through in the actors’ spot on delivery that never misses a beat. Both Allen and Ward-Lealand have been perfectly cast. They embody each of their characters beautifully.

The success of Roberts’ astute direction was apparent by the way in which the audience was captivated from the get-go. And the loud sigh that someone let out after the show concluded was testament that people were really invested in the journey these two leading ladies had taken us on – a true sign of theatre at its best.

In summary, I’m thrilled that Ward-Lealand bagged the rights to this show so we could see it before London, Paris and New York.

One sign on amongst many of the walls of the children’s classroom set particularly caught my eye – it had, with various graphics the words: “Do your best”, “Be honest”, “Be kind”. This piece appears to be breaking all these simple rules at first sight. But upon reflection it actually redefines the intentions of these statements. Go see it.

Royale Productions and The Large Group present Between the Sheets plays at Basement Theatre, until 30 November. Details see Basement Theatre

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Heidi North-Bailey

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