Southwark Playhouse Autumn 2017
Winner of the Papatango New Writing Prize, Stewart Pringle's new play is built on the small and subtle shifts in a casual relationship over time.
The shifts are sometimes too small and subtle to register, and even cumulatively not a great distance has been travelled. But if you attune yourself to the reduced scale of the drama you may find it quietly satisfying.
Sixty-something Harry chairs the weekly meetings of a village committee, while sixty-something Denise follows him in the same hall with her Zumba classes.
They meet awkwardly during a changeover and then gradually find themselves lingering over those few moments as a friendship develops in a string of twenty-one scenes, few longer than three minutes.
At one point there seems the dim, slight possibility that a romance might happen, at another the dim, slight possibility that political differences might separate them.
But essentially nothing big happens, and central to the play's insight is that nothing big need happen for the relationship to wax and wane to its own natural rhythm.
Pringle wisely realizes that to make the little lives of little people dramatic you must show that the little events of their lives seem big to them.
A minor social faux pas can be the cause of deep embarrassment, the discovery of a friend's imperfection the generator of deep disappointment.
He's not always successful in conveying that insight, however. Typically, the most passionate scene in the play comes when we belatedly learn what Harry's committee does and the two argue about it.
But that turns out to be a red herring, as the play really isn't interested in the subject of the debate, but just in the small cracks it exposes in their friendship.
So, after showing us that both characters care about the issue and thus leading us to care, the playwright drops it as irrelevant and must fight to get our attention back to his main subject.
Gary Lilburn successfully conveys the way Harry has settled into a small and uneventful life and how very much even little changes in his routine both scare and excite him. But he has trouble convincing us of the new and, for Harry, intense emotions the man begins to feel.
It comes as something of a shock to read in the published text that Denise is in her sixties, because Connie Walker plays her as half that age, significantly altering the overtones of the characters' attraction to each other.
And so a play which might have been (and which the script's jacket blurb seems to think is) about alternative philosophies of ageing becomes one about not what-might-have-been but what-never-really-could-have-been.
Playwright Pringle has yet to show that he can write a scene more than four minutes long or involving more than two characters, and ultimately Trestle strives for more than it delivers.
But there is the voice of a real playwright here, and the biggest attraction of Trestle might be the opportunity to be in at the start of a promising career.
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Review - Trestle - Southwark Playhouse 2017