Hard hitting new writing at Theatre 503.
‘Violet comes home to a cold damp house and an inquisitive neighbour. She’s looking forward to a long-planned treat, but Anna, the neighbour, just keeps interrupting. And when Violet’s daughter unexpectedly returns from Australia, Violet has to cope with being a mother, again. Strange, though – Mandy doesn’t arrive through the front door… And, stranger still, why can’t Anna see her?’
This new play by Christina Katic is an explosion in form and content. The naturalistic out-set sets the audience up beautifully to wrong-foot them in what will become a mixture of Beckett and Pinter. Displaced reality along side deep psychological angst with the outside world looming in and affecting the inside world. Katic has a canon of styles in Cold Hands and sometime those styles jar slightly as we try to navigate this impressive new piece of writing. The story is universal in its attempt to reunite and resolve an old family dispute at the end of a life – resolution seems to be the key to the stories within the play. The verve and energy of the writing has a youthful feel to it, but for my money, it pushes the cliché a little too hard towards the end of the play and the human heart that is evident throughout the play seems to fall aside in order to create a conclusion.
This is about structure and I am sure with a little tweaking and further development of this piece the energy and hard-hitting dialogue (with serious undertones) can be brought to the fore to make this play a roller-coaster of wit and painful remembrance. Directed by Sue Dunderdale the highs and lows of this production are observed in a skilful and creative way – taking us down one path and bringing us out in a totally different place.
Gabrielle Hamilton as the crusty and acerbic Violet gives a performance that is skilful and totally believable. Hamilton navigates the stage (beautifully and abstractly designed by Norman Coats) and the emotional highs and lows in a coup de theatre – when she combs her hair with her shoe I was convinced she had gone mad and subsequently died. This was her joke that worked on me and the characters in the play – skill and timing comes only from the great; this was tremendous. Her over-helpful neighbour Anna (Deborah Asante) had the uneasy job of being the foil and brunt to all Violet’s highs and lows. An energetic performance and a sensitive approach to what could have been a stereotypical nosey neighbour. Mandy, the ethereal daughter from Australia played by Sadie Shimmin was her Mother’s daughter. Looking totally at ease as she hung through the mirror over the fireplace, Shimmin had a caustic delivery that clearly showed her annoyance at being mentally summoned to this death-dance.
Whether the time and place were real or not, or the whole story was being played out in Violet’s mind that really does not matter. What does matter, very much, is that this trio of fine performances gave credence to a tale of regret and future hope. The hope here was in the young, Anna, who one day will care for the sick. The regret was in Violet who has lost everything through her belligerence and mis-placed moral code. And, finally, the chance for redemption and forgiveness sits in the middle-aged with enough experience behind them and enough future in the front of them to make a difference. So, all in all, the play in its entirety is a moral one. Look hard at yourselves and make that choice to go on or change – that is the overriding message I got from this exciting new work; surely theatre is about teaching, learning and sharing and this is what Christina Katic has done along with the Theatre 503’s commitment to new writing: taught, learned, shared. What more can you ask for?
Gene David Kirk