Penny Flood Watches Very Patiently At Tabard Theatre
A pen and paper love story for a twitter generation
‘Please Wait Patiently’ at the Tabard is an odd idea, inspired by a short news item about a suitcase full of love letters that really did turn up in the Transport for London Lost Property Office. And it works, thanks to a sharp, self-assured script by newcomer Natasha Collie, quirky and accomplished direction by Matt Harrison (who also directed the Tabard’s productions of Pirates of Penzance) and brilliant acting by an enthusiastic young cast who mainly come from the East 15 Acting School.
A lost property office is a dull place, a point not wasted on the three employees – the beautiful, ambitious and tortured Steph (Rachel Chambers); Sam (Tom Turner), 23- going-on-50; and bluff, down-to-earth boss Jayce (Matt Harrison) who is not as sure of himself as he makes out. In between cataloguing lost items, they gradually reveal their hopes, dreams and private fears.
The arrival of the suitcase serves as a diversion when, disobeying Jayce’s instructions, Sam and Steph open it and read the letters. The two people who wrote the letters, and the story the letters tell, come to life. They were written over a period of 30 years so there’s a lot for them to take in, and as they do they start to questions their own lives.
The letter writers are Joel (Max Wilson, who trained in Chiswick Arts Ed) and Alice (Chloë Nicolson, another Pirates performer), who read and enact their letters as Sam and Steph look on. The whole thing moves at a cracking pace with the dialogue is interspersed with dance routines using ladders, boxes, various bits of lost property and a running gag with scarves.
Blasts of music from a funny little radio (another piece of lost property) in the office are entertaining as well as chiming with the action. For example, Mumm Ra’s dreamy ‘She’s Got You High’ at the beginning sets the tone for what’s to come and the jagged opening riff from ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell highlights a crucial emotional moment.
Past and present are gently interwoven as the staff in 2012 imagine the lives of Joel and Alice, starting in 1961. The present time is established with oblique references to the Olympic Games and Fifty Shades, with 2012 taking on an end-of-world meaning for Steph. In the past, the Aldermaston March, arrival of the pill and early feminism set the date while being intrinsic to the Alice and Joel story.
It’s funny, heart-warming, heart-breaking and surreal, sometimes all at once. Although Collie’s characters and story are fictional, it is underpinned by the mystery of the real lost suitcase. How did it get there and why? The play’s explanation captures the melancholy and yearning of that mystery, and the stories Collie creates have an emotional truth.
In spite of all it’s good points, I feel the play could have been tightened, with a little more attention to detail. Alice’s costumes aren’t distinctively 1960s enough, owing more to Zara than Mary Quant, and her make-up is too discrete. Where’s the thick black eye-liner, the false eye lashes and the white lips? Some 60s music wouldn’t have gone amiss either. With sharper costume distinctions an early ambiguity about whether Joel and Alice also worked in Lost Property could have been removed.
But that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a bold and successful move for producers Pulling Focus, as it’s a change from their recent big musical hits.
However, it’s only on for two weeks which is a real pity as so much effort and creative talent has gone in to developing this production. It deserves a bigger airing, but while it is so close at hand it is well worth a visit as when it hopefully emerges again you may have travel further to see it.
August 17, 2012