The recent plays by Kay Adshead that I
have seen have had two ingredients in common: a passionate concern
about oppression and an element of (in the broadest sense) the
this pattern, eventually, although it takes a while to come into focus.
For the first half-hour or so of the two-hander, as opening moments
with a boy under police interrogation in the old South Africa gave way
to scenes of white domestic affluence with an ageing woman preparing
for the death of her husband, I was wondering whether Adshead had
missed the boat by 20 years or so.
As the household is revealed to be in the new Rainbow Nation (even
though Pauline Moran's Jennifer is an unreconstructed white patrician),
with its rose garden being dug up as a possible ancestral burial site
and housemaid Beauty (Sarah Niles) claiming to have a hotline to the
spirit world, the picture grows heavy with portent. When the bodies
found beneath the blooms are identified as decades rather than
centuries old, the mutilated remains of victims of police torture, and
we learn that the offstage-dying Pieter had been a police officer, we
pretty much know what is coming: only the details of how Jennifer
discovered the truth remain to be filled in.
Adshead says this is a hopeful play, but the reconciliation and
forgiveness, when they come, seem perfunctory and forced compared to
what has preceded them. Her own over-suspenseful direction does not
help matters (and Joe Legwabe's live drumming is impressive, but the
performance I saw started so late that I began to recall why I used to
avoid Covent Garden Tube station, the erstwhile haunt of a busking
percussionist). Adshead's programme notes also explain that she was
inspired to make the play for her then-partner in the Mama Quillo
company, actress Lucinda Gane (who was to have created the role of
Jennifer but fell victim to cancer), in such a way as to make one feel
positively wicked for not loving it to bits. So be it, then, "Eternal
and Agonising Hell" will be mine as it was to be Pieter's... unless I
Written for the Financial Times.