Contrary to the play’s title, the intimate space of Park90 is anything but still for the duration of Sally Rogers’ The Still Room. A pacy, witty script with performances that evoke laughter and tears from its audience, the auditorium buzzes from the first beats of ‘Oops Up Side Your Head’ to the moment the cast of six dance offstage after their bows.
It’s 1981 and Janice (Kate James) is a young waitress at a Manchester hotel, eager to do “great things” – but with no idea how. She’s trapped in her hometown by her gender, education, and class, waiting for the results of her O-Levels with a passion and urgency that her peers appear to lack, and even condemn. When Diane, a new waitress arrives, Janice’s frustrations are drawn into focus.
Introduced to Janice during a conversation with her close colleague and friend, Karen, the audience are immediately invited to invest in her. Her personality – brimming with confidence, ideas, and passion – seizes the attention and understanding of watchers. Roger’s pacy dialogue makes an excellent foundation for relationships to be developed and explored between characters. Each dynamic between the six characters is complex and nuanced, making for engaging and active interactions.
James embodies Janice’s young and raw perspective with impeccable pacing and convincing expression. She is endearing and delightful, and, even when Janice’s decisions are objectively disappointing, the audience continue to root for her. Zoe Brough’s mannerisms ensure Diane is authentic and complicated, she is effortlessly convincing in her portrayal. The entire cast is strong and support one another’s performances: Jane Slavin’s timing is flawless, Chris Simmons’ energy as Kevin is a cocktail of delight and eccentricity, Larner Wallace-Taylor is reliable and funny, while Jack Colgrave Hirst’s Dean is focused and recognisable.
Performed in thrust, the naturalistic set fits snugly into the auditorium and underscores the play with a reliable authenticity. Nigel Douglas’ blocking is precise and purposeful. The actors move with and apart from one another with ease and playfulness, never forgetting a bit – such as the waitresses always leaning away from Kevin after mentions of his stench –which is always rewarding.
An audience delights in rewards for their investment – whether that be their remembering a bit or caring for a character – and investing in a character sets our expectations and desires high. Because of this, the end of The Still Room leaves us wanting for just a little more pay off. The play supposedly asks, ‘how far would you go to change the path of your life?’ but appears to hold back from offering much of an answer in Janice’s case. Her final monologue is devastating (and beautifully performed by James) but as a determined, confident character, it would be exciting and rewarding for us to see Janice make further, active choices, or to tease us with something that offers us more concrete hope for her future. Of course, this moment epitomises the heart of the play and its discussions of privilege, gender, and class, but nonetheless, after two hours of investing in Janice’s narrative, some secure hope would have perhaps been a more satisfying conclusion. Janice – with the passion and drive she displays – deserves that.
Despite this want for more resolution, The Still Room is sharp, entertaining, and moving. With confident direction, focused, naturalistic acting, and lots to say, Sally Rogers’ debut play is set to soar.
Written by: Sally Rogers
Directed and produced by: Nigel Douglas
The Still Room plays at Park Theatre’s Park90 until 25 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.