The Girl With Red Hair
Hampstead Theatre Spring 2005
Sharman Macdonald's new play is a delicate, evocative and moving affirmation that life has its own way of going on, even in the face of what seems like unbearable loss.
The title character died a year ago, and the play watches the inhabitants of a small Scottish village as they recover from the tragedy.
Her mother, who coped by turning her emotions off, finds them stirred to life again by the gentle wooing of a passing trucker. A young girl who idolized her has spent the year reenacting her life in games that friends instinctively understood the child needed, but which they now tenderly wean her from.
The dead girl's boyfriend finds a way to remember and still move forward. And two older women barely connected to the others provide models for survival in their discovery that a lifetime of friendship means more than the memories of past losses and betrayals.
It is rare to find a play in which every character is good - and, even more, nice - and still able to hold our interest and empathy.
But Macdonald's script is infused with a love for the characters that warms and envelops the audience, a quality that is fully captured and enhanced by director Mike Bradwell and his admirable cast.
Standing out are Christopher Dunne as the trucker who turns a one-night stand into a curative experience by being one of nature's gentlemen, Patricia Kerrigan as the mother who takes the courageous step of allowing herself to feel again, and Sheila Reid as a widow who faces revelations about the past with an equanimity born of a lifetime's experience.
Robin Dunn's set design at first seems too sunny and Mediterranean for Scotland, but it contributes to the air of almost magical transformations and healing.
The play is a co-production of London's fringe Bush Theatre and Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, being presented at another fringe theatre, the Hampstead, in a model of the kind of cooperative project that may be the future of British theatre.
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Review of The Girl With Red Hair - Hampstead Theatre 2005