Theatre: Widow's Walk
Hannah Greenstreet on a visually striking, if not wholly convincing, new production
by Hannah Greenstreet
Wednesday 13th June 2012, 15:20 BST
For a play about art, its purpose and its capacity to speak, Robert Yates's production of his play Widow’s Walk is, appropriately, visually striking. The set design is sparse but effective, white bannisters providing the sides of the widow’s walk, the central image of the play, which made good use of the angularity of the Corpus Playroom. According to the programme widows walks were originally ‘small rooftop, porch-like rooms...[which] served as places of waiting and watching’, an effective and interesting setting for the play, as we begin to wonder what exactly Abigail, the main character, is waiting for. An easel stands in the middle of the stage, on which Abigail works on a painting for her show throughout the play that we never see, a very powerful device.
Wave sound effects immersed the audience in the world of the play upon entering the Playroom, which were at first calming but grew quite claustrophobic after ten minutes, an effect also achieved by having the cast enter from behind the audience. What was really good about this play was its simplicity and its formal elegance, the three short acts flowing into one another across the gaps in time.
There were also some strong performances, particularly from Ana Escobedo as Abigail Finch, the pressured young painter, Freddie Crossley as Joe Pike, her friend, and Erica Irving as Margaret McCarthy, her hilariously crass art tutor. The bond between Abigail and Joe was particularly believable and I was disappointed that they were not given more opportunity to develop their relationship, as well as being rather perplexed by the unannounced arrival of Joe in Act 2.
This was, I think, a more general problem with the play. The audience is offered vignettes of relationships and I really wanted more depth. I wanted to see more than the concise fifty-five minutes allowed. Although the rivalry between Elizabeth Finch, Abigail’s mother, and Margaret was entertaining, the sudden turn in Margaret and Abigail’s relationship, although it did suggest a disturbing volatility in their relationship. I was also perplexed by the wildly different accents of Abigail and her mother, east coast American and Yorkshire, which left me wondering about the setting of the play and more doubtful about their relationship.
I was also not convinced by the long monologues on the purpose of art and the difficulty of establishing one’s own identity. Although they raised some interesting questions, the characters sometimes seemed to be making speeches for the sake of it. It might have been better gradually to tease these issues out rather than state them all at once, again making me wish the play had been longer.
All in all though, Widow’s Walk is a thought provoking and moving theatrical experience. It is definitely an effective piece of theatre but perhaps it is more of a work of art than a play.