The Hope Theatre
Fringe is in the air! The Camden Fringe is back in full force, whilst beyond the border Edinburgh’s festival has been properly reinstated for the first time post-pandemic. It’s really exciting to see theatre back in this way, offering escapism and entertainment. It feels a long way from the dark, forced confinement of recent years.
For Martha (Clementine Medforth), however, confinement and escapism go hand-in-hand. Following a series of traumatic events, she has retreated from the outside world and its threats of unpredictable social interaction. Instead she has barricaded herself into her bedroom, refusing entry even to her sister. She’s not alone, though. Within the limits of these walls, she has imagined a whole kingdom – a cast of characters to keep her company. There’s even a book club.
Martha opens the play, flitting between monologues. She hints at the trauma she has endured, reliving the experience, but also addresses the audience as part of her imaginary world. There’s an attempt to delineate these sections with different lighting states, but to be honest I found it a little confusing: there wasn’t enough for an audience to hold onto to be sure quite what was happening. I found myself wishing that Medforth would address us, the audience – her imaginary friends – more and with greater enthusiasm. Perhaps these audience interactions will grow stronger as the production’s run continues.
Fortunately, the play really grows and finds its voice as the hour goes on. It also presents some properly moving moments. The first time we see Martha’s sister, Suzie (Eleanor Jackson), is really arresting. Suzie wheels on the door to Martha’s bedroom, which she is not permitted to open, shattering Martha’s control of her environment. Medforth’s wide-eyed shock and fragile shaking are set in sharp contrast to the smooth, honeyed performance of Jackson. In that moment, the reality of living with Martha’s fantasy is brought home expertly. Later, another scene shows us the strain under which Martha bears her mental burdens: as voicemails from her past fill the room, bombarding her mentally, she tries desperately to drown them out by drawing her magical world on the floor. It’s powerful direction from Leon Finnan.
The piece also expertly weaves in a Zoom support group through the use of projection. The video calls feel natural and all too familiar – not an easy feat. Through the group, Martha meets others who are struggling to go outside and integrate into society, eventually finding her own strength to confront life beyond her imaginary world.The Importance of Being Martha is a moving and tender reflection on emerging back into the real world and the bravery that requires. With beautiful performances from Medforth and Jackson, the play feels timely and apposite. It reminds us that leaving our own spaces, engaging with others and seeking escapism are privileges not to be taken for granted.
Written by: Aimee Ferguson
Directed by: Leon Finnan
The Importance of Being Martha plays at The Hope Theatre until 12 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.