Review: Wallflowering (Stroud Theatre Company)

 Cheltenham Everyman Studio

“It’s all about separate; together; separate.”

Stroud Theatre Company’s production of Wallflowering by Peta Murray is a play with strong character in both story and in the two individuals that expose their contrasting personalities to the audience. Chris Garner and Susie Donkin portray a couple unsure how to keep their relationship functioning, as their marriage is not as happy as either of them might think.

The audience are greeted by a near empty space that two ordinary wooden chairs sit apart from each other. The space is lit with a delicate pink hue while overhead can be heard the ambient sounds of a fairground and the jovial music of a Wurlitzer, transporting the viewer to another time. Donkin and Garner enter and take up their first dance position, followed by another and then another; between each position the stage darkens, as though the audience is observing a idyllic memory. Finally the two of them bring their chairs forward and address the audience. We are what appears to be in a counselling session, of sorts; the desire for these characters is to share their story, some moments together and others separate; this is the premise of their presentation. Both characters wish to be heard and find a connection with their audience; comfortably making constant eye contact with each onlooker.

Garner and Donkin are splendidly animated with their characterisation as Cliff and Peggy Small, the two of them giving very strong performances; evidently tuned in with each other through their quick dialogue and intrusions into each other’s multiple monologues. Both actors also co-directed the piece, which has undoubtedly benefitted them performing as a couple; the connection they share seems to have helped their understanding of the other character.

Other characters do make an appearance throughout their storytelling, as they reenact particular moments that have resulted in their current circumstances. These portrayals of other characters are delightfully and deliberately contrasting to the protagonists. Garner as Cliff is suddenly energetic, effeminate and playful when standing in for Peggy’s girlfriends, and his usually orderly persona disappears, whilst Donkin as Peggy, in order to portray Cliff’s work colleagues, abruptly loses the animation in her face and body that is otherwise so greatly expressive.

As their backstory gradually unfolds, intermittent dance sequences follow the pastime that the dysfunctional couple share passionately, displaying Rae Piper and Paul Chantry’s fluid choreography around the performance space, taking the focus away from the plain wooden chairs that these characters have been sat on and the stories that have lead to their being driven apart.

The play builds in tension as their story reaches its end, both characters having invited their audience to empathise with their lives and quirky personalities, and the housewarming party that was briefly referred to at the start is a conclusive setting that makes for a touching finale.

Wallflowering is patient in expressing an understanding that “everything changes”, following a story of love that is lost and hopefully eventually found again.

Stroud Theatre Company’s production of Wallflowering was written by Peta Murray and directed by Chris Garner and Susie Donkin, performing at the Cheltenham Everyman Studio until 21st December 2013.

TJM

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