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Words Apart
Published on Thursday, 16 May 2013

Promotional Image

3 stars

Ambassador Hotel (venue website)
14-17 May, 7:30pm-9:15pm; 18 May, 2:30pm-4:15pm, 7:30pm-9:15pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

Words Apart is about a young woman who befriends four fictional characters, as an escape from an abusive relationship. As if to set the mood, the guy sitting in front of me looked just like Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap. It’s a wonderful concept. Who hasn’t wished they were friends with characters from their favourite novels – to grow up with Huckleberry Finn, or have a cocktail with Nick Carraway? Avoid nights out with Beowulf, though. They always end in a fight.

It’s quite a sweet show. The four actors are wonderful playing Beatrice (from Much Ado About Nothing), Mary Crawford (Mansfield Park), Helen Graham (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) and Nancy (Oliver Twist). Arwen Matthews and Helen Wells Ward were especially good, and the highlight for me was the party scene towards the end of Act 1; it was fun to watch favourite characters from literature getting increasingly tipsy.  The strait-laced Helen Graham didn’t partake, but Nancy knows how to party.

All four characters seemed very true to their fictional roots. It’s best if you know the stories first – and to be completely honest, despite being an English Lit graduate and having a cat named Heathcliff, I hadn’t even heard of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Bronte sister Anne. What’s more, my knowledge of Mansfield Park is somewhat limited to the 2007 TV series. This didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the show, and the programme has biographical notes for the fictional characters, but I think I would have got even more out of it if I’d known the books beforehand.

My chief problem was with the central story of abuse. Seventeen year-old Paige moves in with her boyfriend Dean, and as the narrative progresses, he becomes increasingly controlling. The problem is there’s a Dean-sized hole in the play. He’s never seen, and only communicates through text message or mobile phone (or as Mary Crawford calls it, Paige’s miniature writing desk). I think I’d have really benefited from seeing Dean as a present character; as it stands, I didn’t quite believe it.

I also didn’t quite believe that anyone with even a passing interest in English Literature wouldn’t know that – spoiler alert! – Nancy dies at the end of Olivier Twist. I think Nancy’s death could have been handled so much better; after all, out of all the characters, her own relationship with Bill Sikes best mirrors Paige’s.

The play was created through a series of improvisations, and at times I felt it would’ve benefited from some serious pruning. The second half dragged in parts and overall, felt about ten minutes too long. There is a great kernel of a story here, and it’s really fun. But it’s not quite the finished article yet.

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