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Bed & Breakfast
Published on Friday, 13 May 2011

4 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
12-15 May, 1:00pm-1:50pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 World Premiere.

Bed & Breakfast, the debut production for new group Hot Ice Theatre, is a tragi-comic monologue which combines bittersweet reflections on a life half-lived with mordant musings on the incestuousness (not literal) of Little England's villages.  It’s all laced with a healthy dose of murder most horrid – with a result that’s at times charming, at times chilling, but always a delight.

Writer and performer Katherine Markwick portrays the recently-widowed B&B proprietor, who has set up a guest house to ease the loneliness since her Philip passed.  Entering to a scene of blameless bourgeois domesticity, Royal Wedding china and lace doilies, Markwick launches into a disarming outpouring of village gossip – poring over the affairs of Mr and Mrs Pincher, Alice from the Post Office, and the frequency of the bus service to Lower Crevice.

Markwick is a compelling figure on stage, most especially when musing on her life with Philip and the opportunities she missed.  She longs for how things might have been, but is relentlessly cheerful about how they actually were.  There’s also something inherently comic in the contradiction of a young person playing someone much older, a subtle interplay between the hubris of youth and the wisdom that the years bring.

Elayce Ismail’s direction is restrained and effective, and by breaking the piece into acts, neatly and naturalistically advances affairs – reflecting the comings and goings of the large group of guests (the audience) gathered in Upper Crevice for a wedding.  By the final act, when we return from the ceremony to find our host slumped in her chair with a stiff brandy, the threads come together and we learn she may not be the harmless old dear we all assumed.

Hot Ice Theatre aims to embrace the 'merry and tragic', and their debut with Bed & Breakfast represents a triumphant realisation of those goals.  It is confident and well-crafted, with a gentle but incisive humour that floats breezily like a butterfly but, at the last, stings lethally like a bee.

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