Having viewed a recent performance of Ben Power’s A Tender Thing, Gavin Ewan, a retired GP, reflects on the play’s impact and the memories evoked.
Sitting alone, for this particular show, before the cyan tinted pillars and lintel as a backdrop and the bare boarded stage in the foreground – empty save two chairs, one fallen over, and a mysterious beach– I was reminded of the previous summer trip to RSC Stratford where, accompanied by my wife, we saw Romeo and Juliet in Iraq. That booking had a nuance attached for I had remembered my wife studied Romeo and Juliet at A level and I secretly booked the tickets last winter as a surprise; but in my electronic haste omitted to realise the language was Arabic with subtitles. That only added to the novelty. How was a modern adaptation of the same classic story going to fit into the whole picture, especially with the ages of the players cranked well up?
The scene changes in A Tender Thing were breathtaking, utilising a simple white door separating front from rear stage and furthermore employing canvas flats that were lowered as appropriate for projection of patterns, waves, rain, the list goes on………….music and sound effects further tempted the senses of the eager audience. A sterile white bed foretold the death scene.
I had the doubtful advantage of having watched Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival thirty years ago, played out by two keen young thespians on a unique stage – from a motorcycle seat to sidecar – by the pavement on Princes Street (strangely the bike was a lurid aquamarine, rather like the pillars of the Swan last night). The two players, in turn, took all the many parts, and I recalled every Jones and Evans in their occupational contexts. And so here the Queen Mab speech is neatly used to highlight Juliet’s response to Romeo foretelling her death in his dream. Ben Power has mastered the transposition.
Richard McCabe as Romeo and Kathryn Hunter as Juliet are equally comfortable with puppy love and tragic separation, and they fill the bleak stage with joy, sometimes through words and phrases such as “ Love is too rough, too rude……” but more often using movement, or the lack of it, and dance. Ms Hunter would pass as an invisible extra in any respectable Neurologist’s clinic, underplaying her degenerative disease and the effect on her motor functions. Richard McCabe, dressed in his brown tweeds, shows bucket loads of compassion for his fast fading lover, and leaves us with the feeling that, after all, fostering a connection with a soul mate is one of the absolute needs and musts of human life.