By Alistair Faulkner
Directed by Barbara Crawford
Reviewed by Roderick Chappel - August 25, 2018
One of the benefits of reviewing plays for Theatrecraft is that I often visit theatres for the first time or see plays that would not otherwise have seen. Theatre, play and playwright were all new to me when I saw Echoes by English actor and playwright Alistair Faulkner: an excellent production of a wonderful play.
Echoes is set in the 1990s, with flashbacks to the early Twentieth Century. Rose, a wheelchair-bound old lady in a nursing home, re-lives in imagination her childhood an youth, her love affair and the deaths of both her brother and her lover in World War I. Rose’s declining health, linked symbolically with the year’s decline from summer to winter, ends with her death. This brief description may suggest a story that is either sentimental or morbid, but it was neither. The play was just the right length and held me throughout, and the climax moved me to tears.
The striking and attractive set allowed creative and effective blocking; it was designed, as was the lighting, by Fred Pezzimenti. Rose’s room, stage right, opened onto a green garden with one magnificent beech tree. Far left was a path under a white, vine-clad, decorative canopy, emerging from an arched entry up left. The stage extended forward from this path, creating a place where characters often spoke under a spotlight. Entrances and exits were from the path, or from the door up right in Rose’s room. That room was charmingly decorated but uncluttered, with a divan bed, upholstered in red velvet, as the only furniture. Between the room and the garden were angled French windows upstage, and a gap downstage.
Never having, as far as I can remember, been to Beaumaris before - Melbourne is a very spread-out city - I arrived just as the audience was being called in. I therefore did not know, until well into the play, that three of the actors each played two roles; my failure to spot this immediately was a tribute both to the costumes and to the acting. I took it, from the play’s denouement, that these doublings-up are specified by the author.
Judy Corderoy played Rose with feeling and style, and Emily Holding played Rose as a young woman with charm, vivacity and great sensitivity. Kim Anderson gave a strong performance as the rather fierce Matron of the nursing home, and also played Rose’s mother. The initially unsympathetic and defensive character of the Matron is eventually transformed through her relationship with Rose. Rose’s endearing Irish nurse, Bridget (Julia Day), is being courted by the outgoing and playful nurse, Peter, played by Alex Ashcroft, who was also Rose’s daredevil brother James. Stephen White played both Rose’s daredevil brother James. Stephen White played both Rose’s troubled father and her sympathetic doctor. Stuart Anderson was excellent as Edward, who was James’ friend and Rose’s fiancé.
Lighting was used effectively through many scene changes; spotlights on speeches were sometimes accompanied by secondary spotlighting of secondary actors. Costumes (Samantha Davies) were magnificent, especially those for the young Rose. I found Kim Anderson’s accent as the Matron a little unconvincing, but the other British accents were strong. Sensitive direction by Barbara Crawford led to excellent timing, extending through to the curtain call.
The use of the old and the young Rose in combination was powerful, and the portrayal of Rose’s death was deeply moving. Old age is a central theme of this play. Rose spoke of herself as a nineteen-year-old girl in a ninety-year-old body; my mother, when in her eighties, once said something quiet similar. This successful production of a lovely play offers us a deeper understanding of ageing and of the aged.