Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
The Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s audio-digital venture Sound Stage has proven enormously popular and they have two new plays this autumn. It’s been a treat to hear original work from so many talented playwrights over the last few months, so I was looking forward to settling down for their latest offering, Helping Hands by Cathy Forde.
At first glance the subject matter of this play may be off-putting. The play centres around Rose (Charlene Boyd), an agency support worker visiting the homes of the elderly and vulnerable. She visits Hilda (Maureen Beattie) at the start, who doesn’t answer her door. What plays out over the next hour is a tender look at the crucial work of Rose and all support workers, but also the power of simply having a conversation. It celebrates compassion for a stranger and how quickly that stranger can become a friend.
Care is not an easy topic to address, and while it’s always been tough, the last year has brought many issues to the forefront. Forde cleverly references the pandemic in her script, but this isn’t the focus, as I expected it might be. It is through their developing relationship that Forde’s characters address many topics, not just immediate care, and medical issues, but difficulties from their entire lives. The play tackles grief in a thoughtful way, whether that be the immediate shell shock of a recent death or lasting grief from years ago.
Boyd and Beattie are both exceptional in their roles. Audio plays are at risk of sounding over-acted, but the quiet nature of this play allows the cast to shine. It is very easy to warm to both, especially as their tones change when they get to know, and possibly even like, each other. The obvious pain in Beattie’s voice is palpable while Boyd’s quiet desperation and sadness is heart-breaking. The characters are utterly believable throughout; a testament not just to the actors, but to Forde’s beautiful writing.
The play is quite understated, and it’s only at the end that its emotional impact is felt with a shocking realisation that left me with goosebumps. However, on reflection there is so much of this drama that leaves an impact, whether that be the conversation about a previous support worker who would always make Hilda tea instead of the coffee she asked for, or Rose talking about her day so far, in which she’d discovered her first body.
With the polished delivery that I’ve come to suspect from Sound Stage, this play is a flawless piece of audio theatre. While not the most dynamic and cheerful of plots, it really does seep into your being as the impact of what transpires settles.
Written by: Cathy Forde
Directed by: Ben Occhipinti
Produced by: Pitlochry Festival Theatre in association with Naked Productions
Helping Hands will be available to stream between 26 and 28 November. Further information and booking via the below link.