A bare footed lady, head to foot in black, slowly walks from behind us to the stage. It’s a compelling sight to open any play. But it’s not the first thing that stands out for Everything Theatre’s first visit to Ram Jam Records in Kingston.
Before the show even starts there is the delight of discovering this venue, hidden away behind the Grey Horse Pub, just a couple of minutes’ walk from both bus and train stations. For a lover of good old fashion comedy clubs, or those little back of pub music venues, this place is just perfect. Dimly lit, artwork all over the walls. As far as fringe theatre venues go, it has a uniqueness that might just work. No formal seating, instead tables and chairs, giving you plenty of space and even somewhere to put your pint down, a pint you can buy from the bar at the back of the venue; thankfully, though, they close it during the performance. And then there is the infectious enthusiasm of Joy – organiser, producer, pint puller, general all-rounder – who is trying to branch the venue out into fringe theatre. For fringe venues to work they need someone with passion, and there is no doubt at all that Ram Jam has that and more in Joy.
But back to our lady in black. Once on stage she starts talking, softly, her voice ancient. We discover that she’s a gypsy, confronting the commandant that raided their homes in 1943. It’s a compelling performance, broken only by the background noises of the pub, something that’s unavoidable in these types of venues. Performer Sarah Woodruff demands attention as she tells the tale of how her village was raided, the men killed, asking if he regrets anything. It’s powerful, it’s hold-your-breath stuff.
The scene smoothly shifts into the second of our three shades. The old gypsy is gone: instead we’re confronted by a hard-nosed businesswoman, deep in conversation with a dog-walker employee. It’s a powerful contrast from the chill of the first scene. This time, instead of holding our breath, we’re encouraged to chortle at the absurdity of it all, as Woodruff’s businesswoman tries to manipulate, threaten and coerce the hired help into being her pawn in her divorce with her husband, using the affections of a dog as her weapon of choice.
The third scene shifts us into the future. Woodruff becomes a robot, caring for her 92 year-old owner. Except our little old lady isn’t happy with her purchase, and so they discuss upgrading or even decommissioning it. The earnest way Woodruff discusses how she could be trading in is both humorous and chilling in equal measure, portraying how little value we place in caring for one another maybe.
This is a superb hour of three distinct stories, bringing to mind Cloud Atlas, with its contrasting stories taking on past, present and future, bound together by thoughts of oppression and control; the real question, though, is whether the characters we actually see are the oppressed or the controllers.
With only three shows scheduled, there isn’t much chance to catch Three Shades, but that isn’t a reason not to check our Ram Jam Records. As fringe theatre goes, this really could become a regular haunt if you live close to Kingston. And if you do get along, tell Joy we said hello.
Written and performed by: Sarah Woodruff
Directed by: James Kemp
Produced by: Joy Bowers
Booking link: https://www.ramjamrecords.co.uk/theatre
Booking Until: 7 March 2019