Pros: Well written and full of atmosphere owing to clever use of lighting.
Cons: The bitterness that envelops the characters makes it difficult to feel any sympathy for their situation or to relate to them.
The Arcola is a great venue for hosting a play set in the Alaskan frontier at the height of the gold rush. The exposed wooden boards would not look out of place in a rustic homestead, and their charming café has echoes of a vintage drinking parlour – it’s a great place to set the mood for the play ahead, but don’t drink too much as re-entry to the theatre is strictly prohibited in this 90 minute production (no interval).
For the performance of In Skagway, we’re transported to the bleak territory of a dried up gold mine with three women sharing a house – mother May, daughter T-Belle and disabled stroke victim “Aunt” Frankie, a former actress. The play tells the story of the women and their plight to escape as the town dries up around them, whilst a series of flashbacks provide adequate backstory to the frustrating situation that the women find themselves in.
The scenes all take place in the women’s rustic homestead house. The stage is set with a wall built of rustic pallets with lighting behind it. The changes in the lighting allow the stage to go from wooden home to dank room on a ship, and also provide a lovely lighting change that creates the effect of being on a cabaret style stage.
The acting is good across the board. Angeline Ball as Frankie is enjoyable as an overly confident and cruel actress in her flashback scenes, yet I felt strangely uncomfortable watching her struggle as a stroke victim. It is not an easy feat to portray a disabled character, and I had trouble understanding how I felt about her portrayal of helplessness.
The play centres around the three woman, who harbour resentment and bitterness for each other in epic proportions, something which makes each character hateful in their own way. They circle each other with jaw dropping displays of selfishness and disdain, which is shown best by Frankie’s absolute betrayal of T-Belle. Frankie is unable to move, yet summons up every ounce of strength to harm T-Belle, even though she does it purely from malice, and despite knowing that she too will suffer.
The disregard and simmering tensions between the characters is the backbone of the play, yet I almost struggled to get involved in it as the characters made it difficult to emotionally invest in them. I should have felt sympathy for them, but I couldn’t even muster apathy as there was a certain sense that each made their own bed to then lie in.
That’s not to say it isn’t a good production – as a whole it is very good, and the questions it asks aren’t cut and dry with regards to right and wrong. This is particularly evident in regards to the final actions of May, which open debate over whether it was a cruel or kind ending, and which ask you to examine the motives of the character who initially comes across as the weakest of the three.
The insinuated imagery of the final scene is eerily gruesome and yet fitting. There should be winners here, but somehow every one loses out to the bitterness that consumes the characters.
Author: Karen Ardiff
Director: Russell Bolam
Producer: KTR Productions in association with Gúna Nua
Booking Until: 1st March 2014
Box Office: 020 75031 646
Booking Link: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/production/arcola/in-skagway