By Nikki Packham. Review night:- Saturday 25th January
I love the Bar Shows – I love watching them, directing them and acting in them, so it was with real pleasure that I walked into the BLT Bar on Saturday night and saw the colourful items and posters adorning the walls, beams and pillars that make up the set for each production. I knew next to nothing about this play – only that it concerned three Victorian ladies who loved travelling to exotic places, usually alone. This time they were sharing their experience of past travels and attired in what I call dun-coloured skirts, shirts and boots, were excitedly looking forward to this next adventure into, what they called “Terra Incognita”. This was translated in the programme as the Unknown Land, though I feel it translates better as the Hidden Land, meaning that the future is normally hidden from us, until we experience it of course.
Complete with pith helmets and provisions, scorning Sherpas and men of any kind, they wielded machetes whilst regaling each other proudly with stories of their former encounters with wild men and animals. I did find them a tad irritating when they were trying to ‘top’ each other’s tales, but on reflection, this was probably the reaction wanted by the American author. Yes, these women were Americans, each with their own specialty and each with their own personality. The three actresses playing them were clearly very much at home with each other and confident in their dialogue and personas. I did have a slight problem with some of the names of people that were clearly American and of whom I had never heard, but when one of them found a badge entitled” I like Ike”, I was on much firmer ground!
The play took us on an extraordinary journey through jungle, rivers, over bridges, into snow-capped terrain and ironically, encounters with men – well one man playing a wonderful array of characters. Though it seemed they were all for women’s liberation, these females were still affected by the male of the species, and his introduction to the action made the play more satisfying for yours truly. Paul Baker brilliantly captured the essence of each part he played, from a cannibal who had taken over the persona of his latest victim, the Yeti, (I loved the snowballs), the Chinese fortune teller, the rather dim and insular gas station attendant, through to the nightclub owner, who swept Fanny (Sarah Kidney) off her feet in 1955 America.
This land the three travelled through was, perhaps because of their yearning to learn more of life, a time-travelling land, hence the artefacts displayed from different decades. Their collective yearning to experience life outside their world, gave them the ability to formulate words and describe these “trophies” which hadn’t been invented in their lifetime. I particularly loved their delight in whisking with the hand whisks! Also, the red cushion thrown down to represent their campfire!
Jane Buckland moved her cast effortlessly in and out of this tiny space and her set design was a master stroke, as were the announcements of each scene, (or journey along the way) and the appropriate jungle noises and modern songs – well to 1955 – designed by Simon Tyrell-Lewis. Emma Christmas manages every time to illuminate this space with her magic touch, that creates so much atmosphere. Kerstin Beard’s costumes were absolutely right for each period and she brought colour and magic to Paul’s costumes. His quick changes were helped by Kirstin too.
I know how hard it is to put on a show in this space and credit must be given to Richard Gissing, as set constructer, Laura Jordan, Michelle Ashton and Pat Jones, who sourced these incredible props and last, but by no means least, Holly March who stage managed and operated sound and lights.
Jane had a cast who managed to imbue this wordy play with humour, pathos and actual fun. They brought the highbrow to us poor mortals in understandable chunks and I salute them. Megan McGery as Alexandra exuded energy and vivacity and I really believed she was meant to be in the 1950s world of the Beach Boys. Sarah Kidney as Fanny made us feel her reluctance to embrace the future, but we shared the magic she felt as, discarding her Victorian clothes, she blossomed into the full-skirted feminine 50s icon and waltzed away with her nightclub owner.
Jessica Webb as Mary, the natural leader, serious and scorning the wearing of trousers by women, was never going to embrace one decade over all others and Jessica was perfectly cast as the only one of the three that, having thrown off – literally – her skirt, revealing trousers, prepared to march off into whatever future beckoned. Her speech that ended the play was beautifully expressed and I truly felt that she was willing to be on the verge of any future, anywhere.