Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two
[Trigger warning: suicide]
She inspired two men to fight over her; she drank Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne) and had raging hangovers; she “shagged half the village”; Sophie Bentinck’s grandmother, the eponymous Pauline, was one of a kind. She burned bright, too brightly for the monotony and crushing silences that punctuated life as a housewife with a wayward husband. Tragically, she died by suicide. As Sophie’s own mother slips into illness, Sophie reflects on memory, love and loss, using Pauline’s diary to kickstart this journey.
The play is presented as a mixture of Sophie’s voiceover sessions in a studio, diary readings, and audio clips of her mother Anne who, as a voiceover artist herself, sounded melodious. Sound designer Anna Short must have been spoilt for choice, and the end result is an intimate study of the three women. Sophie captures Pauline’s essence in her diary readings, blending longer monologues with pithy matter-of-fact entries (“Kennedy shot. Cleaned house.”)
A wooden trunk full of props acts like a treasure chest to hold nuggets of the story. Three tiny model chairs emerge to represent an interview between Sophie and Anne, the third chair for Sophie’s phone to record their frank conversation.
Sophie juxtaposes Pauline and Anne’s words with her own diary, which starts when she was 12 years old and quickly slips into the teenage vernacular of the Noughties; my own diaries were pretty similar, so I take my hat off to anyone brave enough to read theirs on stage. She also moves past the diaries to reflect on her own issues with alcohol and relationships. I was glad to see Sophie touch on the moral conflict of sharing her grandmother’s story – whilst it’s never exploitative, it’s only natural to worry about exposing a loved one’s private thoughts and fragile mental health. The play is also being adapted as a memoir, for which Sophie won the Curtis Brown Breakthrough Memoir Scholar award, and it’s clear her story will shine on the page as well; I can’t wait to read it.
When Sophie asks what her mother would say to Pauline, the answer could speak to anyone who has died by suicide, and to the friends and families they left behind: “Look at what you’ve missed… what you would have been.” Back in 1967, suicide was taboo, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve begun to have honest conversations about it. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been suicidal in the past, but it took me a long time to even voice those thoughts. Plays like Pauline help to kickstart painful but necessary conversations, and we should treasure them.
Written by: Sophie Bentinck
Directed by: Fred Wienand
Pauline plays at EdFringe 2022 until 29 August. Further information and bookings here.