Kitchen Sink Birthday Party [by Matt Baker]
If you’ve been to Basement Theatre recently, you may have noticed a few changes around the studio door. A car back seat, a toilet, and some graffiti are just a few of the components to set designer Tim Booth’s* refurbishing for Northern Glow, a mini three-act one-woman show that introduces us to the members of a working class North England family. Written and performed by the chameleonic Bryony Skillington, there’s Darren, who’s running the bingo and petitioning to save jobs at the mill, Lauren, the birthday girl who’s running the show, and Jill, the long-suffering wife and mother respectively.
Broken into three scenarios, each separated with enough time to get to the bathroom and grab another pint, the night starts off with a bit of light entertainment in the Basement bar, before we are encompassed by even more of Booth’s design in the studio. Upstairs, we’ve been invited to Lauren’s sister’ birthday party, but that doesn’t stop Lauren from taking the spotlight. There are games to play, and old friends and family you’ll be surprised you didn’t recognise earlier, and it comes complete with sausage rolls, savouries, and something for the vegetarians too. There’s seriously plenty of food to go around, so don’t fill up before the show.
Director Ahi Karunaharan encourages Skillington’s natural comedic talent in the first two parts, but ensures the more dramatic performance aspect is executed with precision and pace. Neither he nor Skillington are afraid of taking their time and letting the moments in between the words do their work. Though more structured beats would aid the drive of the first two acts, these are the dramaturgical necessities that more often than not come after a first season a Basement Theatre.
Upon entering the studio for the second time, there is an immediate noticeable and dramatic shift in tone to the third act. Skillington, now the mother of the birthday girl, drunkenly rants with a subtext that strongly juxtaposes her impeccable comedic timing. There’s something under the surface, and it isn’t until the question, that every actor must ask themselves when performing a monologue (“to whom am I speaking?”), is answered, that the show’s kitchen sink realism hits home. It’s an absolute kick in the guts, and although it could be argued an unearned pathos in terms of plot, Skillington’s performance is restrained enough that there is no hint of melodrama.
While the script does require development in regards to seeding the themes and issues addressed earlier in the piece, Northern Glow is a slice of North England life; the working class answer to Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, illustrating both the endearing and content simplicity, and burdensome social issues that exist not only in the stereotypical setting of the play, but the universality of the world in which it has been created.
*Disclosure: Tim Booth is a contributor to Theatre Scenes
Northern Glow is presented by Working Class Productions & Agaram and plays at Basement Theatre until November 14. For details see Basement Theatre. On Saturday 14th at 5pm they will perform a fundraiser show with all proceed’s going to woman’s refuge.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe