Stockport is seven miles from Manchester city centre but in cultural terms it might as well be several hundred. It sadly lacks a venue such as a 53two to showcase new writing and emerging theatrical talent. This however is changing with Stockport-based Viaduct Theatre Company, whose mission inspired by the burgeoning independent scene in Manchester is to present professional pop-up theatre in unusual settings and long may this continue.
As part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, Viaduct return to Stockport’s Hat Works Museum with their second production, China Plates and Pearl Earrings, a family drama about bereavement and sibling rivalry, written and directed by Jade Jones. Following the death of their last surviving parent, Julia, Nicola and Bryan, meet in the living room of their family home. Sorting through their parents’ belongings and their own childhood memories they make a startling discovery about their home that will have a profound effect on the rest of their lives. Set in the past and the present, Jones’ absorbing and intriguing play explores a variety of universal themes including parenthood, family ties and unconditional love.
Encouraged as children to follow their dreams, each has reached a moment of crisis which is further exasperated by their parents deaths. Rather like the hit TV series, This Is Us, Jones cleverly plays with time and perspective showing in flashback, Julia, Nicola and Bryan’s parents, Freddie and Linda as newlyweds moving into their new home and talking about starting a family whilst in the present their grieving children squabble over possessions and continue to argue over long held sibling rivalries. This provides strong moments of dramatic irony which as the play progresses gradually makes for unsettling and uncomfortable viewing as Freddie and Linda’s ambitions for their children begin to crash and burn. That their parents house ultimately has to be demolished because of subsidence is a powerful metaphor of the fault-lines evident in the siblings relationships with themselves and those that they profess to love.
A strong cast headed by Claire Haynes as Julia, Lorna Newman as Nicola and Paul Fraser-Smith as Brain deliver compelling and powerful performances. Haynes, Newman and Fraser-Smith are completely believable as the embittered, quarrelling siblings. Newman, making her theatrical debut, is particularly impressive as the tortured, guilt ridden youngest sibling. The scenes with Freddie and Linda, beautifully played by Tom Coffey and Emma Young are exquisite and beautifully observed. Young especially is a delight to watch and her march to womanhood and feminism is a joy to behold.
Jones directs her own play with a firm and sensitive hand and is brilliantly served by John Harrison’s atmospheric score played live on solo guitar and Richard Lomax’s textured lighting which is impressively achieved with a small number of spotlights rigged on only just four lighting bars. Viaduct Theatre is a welcome addition to fringe theatre in Greater Manchester and the Company deserve as much support as they can get. If this excellent production is anything to go by Viaduct will quickly become one of the leading players on the Fringe and for this to be happening in Stockport is surely something that local audiences and theatre makers alike should celebrate and firmly get behind.
China Plates and Pearl Earrings is at The Hat Museum, Stockport until July 21st.
Reviewer - Richard Hall
on - 20/7/18