MERCY, FREDERICK'S PLACE - Theatre Review

There aren't many plays that spring to whose leading female character is 70-years-old and the most prominent male character is 75-years-old. In some ways that's the 'least' extraordinary thing about Mercy (which is written by Claire Whitehead and directed by Jake Murray). There are so many other positive things about Mercy that distinguishes it from other plays.

The play begins with Helen (Virginia Stride), the leading lady in question, addressing the audiences and we're confronted with the breadth of her emotions in the wake of her husband's passing. It's a rather frank discourse, but immediately we're taken with her candidness and there is nothing false in Stride's performance. Standing before us IS a woman grieving.  When her former lover Dave (Jack Klaff) makes an appearance, it agitates her already troubled mind – not surprising really, as it was his abandonment of her that led to her meeting her future husband, Anthony (Steve Hay).

The issue of regret crops up time and again in the play. For Dave, a self-confessed 'cad', the unique history he's shared with Helen makes his past actions unforgettable and difficult to live with – even for someone of his persuasion. Helen, meanwhile, emotionally shuts down for 30 years, letting herself be cared for by Anthony, but not reciprocating the practical or emotional succour that he provided throughout their marriage. His departure has set her adrift, leaving her to contemplate the insular demeanour she's exhibited for three decades and face the swell of emotions she's kept at bay for so long.

Flashbacks to the pivotal point in her past allows us to assess the troubled younger Helen (Joanna Walters). As it happens, Walters' performances perfectly complements Stride's own, 'hewn from the same rock' so to speak. Seeing her fragile state then, it's not so surprising that she let 'life happen to her' than be an active participant in her relationships and the village she now resides.

Helen's 'friends' Rachel (Sarah Whitlock) and Bella (Margaret Ashley) bring welcome moments of levity to the proceedings, compelled to gossip and know about the mysterious man at the funeral. While Whitlock channels the expressive talents of Miriam Margolyes, Ashley/Bella's  moment of candour when she decides to tell a few 'home truths' is priceless – especially with Helen's reaction afterwards.

If there's one thing that Mercy shares with This Thing Called Love, (one of the other plays in the Ever HopeFull rep season) it's that it's never too late to change your mind and follow your own path. In one's mature years, it's even more important to make the most of each and every day. In the words of Dave in Mercy: "It feels like I've still got everything to play for."

(C) Michael Davis 2015

The Ever Hopefull Repertory Season runs at 6 Frederick's Place, London, EC2R 8AB until 27th September 2015.

http://www.everhopefullrep.com/

Author's review: 
4