Once I had worked out whether this play was pronounced Ev-elyn or Eve-lyn (turns out it’s Eve-lyn), I was extremely excited to sit down to watch it at the Southwark Playhouse. This is a new-to-me venue that proved a beautiful, adaptive space for movement-focused and intimate theatre. The staging allows Evelyn to portray an intense story – inspired by real events – in an inventive way, narrated by the seaside puppet show characters Punch and Judy.
The production begins with an almost creepy prologue, presented by this traditional children’s entertainment. The dichotomy between their apparent carefree, holiday atmosphere and the unsettling story they tell is compounded further by the masks worn by the cast, as humanity is suppressed and individuals become a faceless mob. Additionally, background music used to set the scene is played by Michael Crean dressed as an executioner: an interesting metaphor for characters in the play acting as judge, jury, and executioner. The movement and choreography employed similarly underscores the unnerving intensity of this opening scene.
The narrative tells of Evelyn Mills, a woman arrested for providing a false alibi for her partner in a court case of child murder. The events of the case itself are depicted by Punch and Judy; this abstraction of the tale into a non-human form further adding to the chilling nature of the narration. Mills, having been released from prison after three years, is given a new identity and sent to a small seaside town to start a fresh life. The locals begin to get suspicious and the remainder of the play switches between Punch and Judy’s narration and realistic scenes set in the town. It questions the concept of mob justice and trial by public opinion, using dramatic digital effects, sound and lighting to demonstrate the impact social media has in spreading misinformation and opinions amongst the townspeople. The essential question is, can Evelyn be allowed to start a new life or is she inherently a bad person? We question if her lying can be justified, and if the townsfolk are reasonable in persecuting her.
The script switches deftly between narration and performance, with the small cast of four and a fifth actor-musician creating an intimate, tense atmosphere. There are emotional and intense performances from all involved: Nicola Harrison as the quiet, mysterious Sandra, Rula Lenska as her determined, sometimes vulnerable friend Jeanne and Offue Okegbe as down-to-Earth Kevin. Yvette Boakye as outspoken Laura is honest and engaging throughout, particularly in the second act, as the play and her performance both grow in intensity.
The use of the space is simple yet effective and the choice of costumes for the stage crew is particularly useful in scene-setting, immersing the audience wholly into the seaside environment, whilst facilitating scene changes. Music covers these transitions smoothly, allowing the audience to remain engaged.
Whilst this show left me intrigued and provoked interesting moral and ethical questions, I felt some key plot points could have been more clearly established. Much of the play allows for intrigue and suspense, but there are moments of real confusion. That being said, this is a thought-provoking, inventive piece of theatre that excellently highlights the relevant and complex issue of mob justice and trial by public opinion.
Directed by: Madelaine Moore
Written by: Tom Ratcliffe
Produced by: George Warren and Simon Paris
Composed/Sound Design by: Michael Crean
Set Design by: TK Hay
Movement Direction by: Temitope Ajose-Cutting
Costume Design by: Trynity Silk
Lighting Design by: Rachel Sampley
Evelyn plays at Southwark Playhouse until 16 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.