kiss them all soundly

kiss them all soundly
By Jason Cavanagh. 5pound theatre. The Owl and the Pussycat, Richmond. September 11-22, 2012.

Set on a tiny stage meant to appear as though it was built by children from cardboard and bed sheets, kiss them all soundly is an interesting and well-acted piece of original theatre. Writer/director Jason Cavanagh takes three famous nursery rhymes – Mary had a little lamb, Georgie Porgie and Simple Simon – and works with the idea that each of these sweet rhymes hides a dark truth. He looks at what would happen if each of these characters were real people hiding a painful secret from themselves and others.

When we meet Simon (Adam Willson), he is a tough-talking marketing executive conducting an interview with a prospective employee Martin (Peter Rowley). In a different scene, we meet George (Peter Rowley again), who is developing a worrying fascination for schoolgirl Alice (Brooke Smith-Harris), whom he meets every day at her bus stop. Mary (Susannah Frith) is a housewife and mother who seems stuck in a strange sitcom-style marriage, complete with canned laughter. As these characters move on and off the tiny stage, we start to understand more about them and their connection to each other.

With most of the actors playing two characters, and with short scenes and plenty of concealed truths, this is a demanding play. At times I found myself getting confused, especially with the characters of Mary and her husband, played by Frith and Willson, and Simon and his wife (also played by the same actors). That is not to take away from the good performances. Frith’s portrayal of a grieving mother, clutching at a tablecloth as though it is the wrapped-up and still-breathing body of her baby, is beautiful and touching. Willson is also good in two challenging roles that often require him to switch rapidly between them.

The strongest part of the play involves George and Alice. Peter Rowley brings sweetness and vulnerability to George, the lonely old man who greets schoolgirl Alice at her bus stop every day. We cannot help but share Alice’s distrust of him. Rowley and Brooke Smith-Harris, both of them actors from New Zealand, give spot-on performances here. There is something quite magical in this evolving friendship.

Rowley also plays the interviewee, Martin, in the marketing scenes with Simon. It is fascinating to watch their relationship completely spin around into something unexpected, too.

There are moments to cherish in this play. Another reason to check out the innovative work of 5pound Theatre.

Sara Bannister

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.