Tearoom Reflections [by Guest Reviewer Amanda Leo]
Sitting at just 45 minutes, The Memory Shelf has all the potential for a great, short fringe piece whose message goes a little deeper than for just pure entertainment. Written and performed by duo Amelia Reynolds and Saraid Cameron with direction by Renee Lyons, it focuses on the happenings in a tearoom in small-town Arohanui that is famous for its delicious lamingtons.
The first image is of the well-known Edmond’s Baking Power (in giant tin can form) being lowered from the ceiling onto the stage. Such iconic cultural kiwi references colour some of the characters and delights and entertains. Although the play starts with a bang with excitement from Reynold’s character Jess, the pace of the play throughout remains somewhat slow, despite the change of characters every few scenes. Such changes and transitions can often be confusing, as the audience is left to do too much of the work in trying to make sense of how and why the different characters are connected. This may be more a function of the writing, however, than Renee Lyon’s sharp direction- one gets the feeling that the order of the scenes and way in which they intersect needs to be reworked to leave out drops in energy between scene changes.
The play also deals with the subject matter of sexual abuse and rape and does a great job at exploring the perspectives of survivors of sexual violence. There are some wonderfully poignant lines exchanged between Jess and TW that highlight the central metaphor of a memory shelf in the mind and create a discussion on the way in which we store and process memories. Again, while the direction and acting of such great moments are efficient and believable, there seems to be a lot of potential for the story to be reworked. More nuanced exposition would help greatly in the audience’s understanding of the piece.
Reynold and Cameron’s characterizations of the various people that occupy the tearooms, however, strongly showcases their impressive skills as actresses. Their ability to switch deftly from their more comic caricatures to the deeper emotional moments of the two central characters Jess and Saraid’s character TW makes this piece very watchable. Both central characters are surprisingly well developed, revealing an emotional depth in the piece that both skilled actresses have no problem in accessing. Lyons’ direction in the functional use of props and set space is efficient and often produces moments of comedy.
The Memory Shelf has some beautifully poignant moments that are sure to provoke some thought not only on the perspectives of sexual abuse victims, but the ways in which we process our own connections and disconnections with people.
The Memory Shelf plays as part of Auckland Fringe at The Basement until 22nd February. Details see The Basement.