It’s surprising what you can do with a simple set and an all-female ensemble of six versatile actors playing both male and female roles.
Shutters, at Finsbury’s Park Theatre, in London, is a triple bill of diverse short plays – all American – that probe the role of women at different times during the last century.
The quirky Cast Of Characters that starts the night puts a family in the spotlight, each one a potential player in a never-to-be performed production.
The snappy dialogue – with occasional prompts from an unseen director – reveal the persona of each family member – from the elderly and sometimes confused mother Bernice to her squabbling adult children who call themselves the “Three And A Half Sisters”.
There’s aspiring writer (and anorexic) Marie (Matilda Thorpe), gay brother Frank (Beverley Longhurst), southern belle sister Vicky (Yolanda Kettle) who got the looks and the MS suffering Liz.
Every few moments the ensemble stop and pose for a photo as if to remind us that the plays are a “snapshot” of life.
But before we get too comfortable with the family (and elderly neighbour Clara who is suffering from Bells Palsy – or possibly a stutter) the play is over.
Playwright Philip Dawkins paints a vivid picture of one family’s life with something as simple and original as a play’s cast of characters.
Next we’re plunged into the early 1900s and a brutal crime in Trifles.
A woman is accused of stringing up her husband. While the three lawmen mock the couple’s rural life, and the “little lady’s” poor home-making, it is up to the neighbourhood women to get to the bottom of the tragedy.
It’s a fascinating concept (though would a slightly built woman have the strength I had to ask myself?).
Longhurst is back as the sheriff but it is Lucia McAnespie as the patronising male prosecutor who holds your attention as he tries to piece together the crime.
While the men scour the farmhouse looking for clues Mrs Hale (Joanna Kirkland) and sheriff’s wife, Mrs Peters (Nicola Blackman) piece together what happened.
It’s an engrossing story from former reporter Susan Glaspell.
The Deer is another slice of surrealism with one of the main characters being a deer, knocked down and on the verge of dying (actually Kirkland make’s a pretty convincing deer, her hair knotted like two antlers and an empty wide-eyed expression throughout).
As she waits for the inevitable, along with the mortally wounded car driver, we learn the motorist’s back story and it’s a powerful tale of life, death, love..and pie.
Director Jack Thorpe Baker has taken two new works and book-ended them with an American classic to create a compelling night’s entertainment that explores feminism on a deeply personal level.
McAnespie, as tearaway teen Russ in The Deer, is a beautifully crafted character, skilfully presented while Longhurst’s English professor, John, is an exercise in subtlety.
Shutters runs until August 3.