Pros: A moving script placed in a creative, community hub.
Cons: Slightly lazy direction and nervous performances.
MAP Studio Café proudly stands on a corner off my fairly quiet suburban street, and yet I have never been. It has recently reopened after a spell of closure, throughout which its legacy prevailed in whispers and downright outrage on every corner of that street and into the community. It’s reopening therefore was a highly anticipated hot topic. Since then, I have never seen it empty and I have finally seen exactly why. It is unpretentiously dedicated to arts of indiscriminate genre: whole-hearted and serve with home cooked soul food and good wine. In all its honesty, its décor is a little shambolic (forgivably), used to housing acoustic musicians and art that can overlook a piano and double base secreted, messily, in a corner or seating that instigates bum ache. A play, therefore, has to fight a bit harder in order to attention seek over all this, particularly in a wood panelled room where diners can be heard clanging their cutlery into a lamb stew in the café below.
Shallow Slumber is a serious play. It demands our concentration and our empathy. We are constantly required to fill in gaps; to think and to feel for both characters in this harrowingly human two hander. It is more than possible for good acting and smart use of space to override the stark shabbiness of the venue, but they have to be all-powerful and coaxing. In this case, the production didn’t quite hit the mark.
This is in part because Chris Lee’s script is quiet and understated, which is not altogether a bad thing. Lee draws on his experiences as a social worker, involving the often-dichotomous duty to communicate with and help on a human level and to protect. Premiered in the wake of Baby P’s story, where the nation’s minds were opened to the unthinkable acts of parents, and the apparent shortcomings of the welfare system, Shallow Slumber, was produced under a very definite context, a context that is intentionally shut off from every day life. Considering the way that Lee’s narrative works, the context is as important as the content because it isn’t wholly about a child, a failing, the welfare or class system; it is about people. The fragility of people: the inherent capacity to make mistakes and the overwhelming desire to help and be helped. Lee’s characters Moira (Zoe Cunningham), a social worker, whose life is ruined by an, ‘incident’ and Dawn (Julie Ann Nye), her case, who carries out that incident. He works backwards, from distant aftermath, to immediate aftermath, and then to the incident itself.
It is imperative that the audience understands both sides and feels empathy for both characters. Cunningham and Nye’s performances enabled our sympathy and intrigue. Nye is powerfully charged as Dawn. If anything she could hone in her skill and hold more control over her character. Conversely, Cunningham’s Moira is too controlled, too collected and too emotionless. All of which, contributes to the portrayal of her profession but not the portrayal of her as a person. Both performances also need better movement with more creative direction, especially in a space as sparse as the Map Studio Café.
Author: Christopher Lee
Director: Christopher Peta Lily
Producer: Map Studio Cafe
Booking Until: This play has now completed its run. For more information visit: mapstudiocafe.com