Elegies at Drayton Arms Theatre is a double bill of monologues dealing with bereavement and grief. Both are skilfully performed, but you do feel they could be enhanced further with more polished staging.
The first of the evening is Intricate Rituals, written by Seth Douglas, and performed by Maria Cook. Siken is a lesbian student bearing an unrequited love for her best friend, Dee, who dies tragically at a young age. The story explores the process of grief and coping mechanisms, culminating in Siken undertaking a revolting bargaining ritual, hoping to bring Dee back.
Cook’s performance is highly engaging, drawing the audience in closely very early on. We laugh along with Siken and understand the person she is, flaws and all, before witnessing her escalating distress. She is highly convincing as a twenty-something outsider – vulnerable, struggling to belong, then crippled by unexpected loss – and portrays the various stages of grief sensitively.
Douglas’s script is enjoyably witty, providing an excellent balance of light relief against the headline subject of grief. Additionally, it introduces tangential topics that add pertinent layers of interest to the story. It neatly weaves in questions of gender fragility, disclosing the spaces that LGBGTQ+ people can be side-lined into, in a society where they don’t comfortably have a place of their own. It highlights the human need for touch in both this circumstance and that of bereavement. Siken’s grief and physical distress is all the more palpable for understanding her so fully.
Jay Seldon’s set design is functional, apart from an interesting shadowplay scene, which cleverly allows Siken to perform her sickening ritual before us. The staging generally would benefit from a little polish, to match the excellent performance – perhaps a backcloth that is held up more tightly; some introductory or incidental music; more distinct lighting for temporal change, across different areas of the stage.
The second part of the evening offers The Same Rain That Falls On Me by Logan Jones. In this story Alice, played by Ella McKeown, is called home from university by the news that her father is terminally ill.
McKeown’s performance is impeccable, as she battles with family dynamics and the mundanity of life in the extraordinary context of death, and she paces her delivery beautifully. Largely, though, the character is naïvely drawn and insular, making it difficult to empathise with her. Logan Jones’ script otherwise contains some beautifully descriptive and detailed moments, pinning down the reality of life outside the bewildering experience of loss, but the ‘hope for the future’ of the niece, Autumn, is just a bit conveniently cheesy.
Although enjoyable, this second play lacks the more complex structure of the first, and with its minimal staging and lighting it felt somewhat more like an audition piece than a professional production. Again, some interest added to the staging would elevate it to match the standard of the performance.
This neat package of plays provides a very satisfying evening in a pub theatre right now, but I would be eager to see them both again in a year or so when they have evolved into more fully rounded productions, giving their talented performers the backdrop they deserve.
Written by: Seth Douglas
Directed by: Ella McKeown
Produced by: Izzie Kemal Ur Rahim
Design by: Jay Seldon
The Same Rain That Falls On Me
Written by: Logan Jones
Directed by: Jay Seldon
Produced by: Katie Marks
Artistic Director: Ella McKeown
Executive Producers: Katie Marks and Izzie Kemal Ur Rahim
Elegies is on at Drayton Arms Theatre until 26 March. Further information and bookings can be found here.