Image courtesy of Rebecca Yallop.
Pines at Bedlam Theatre.
William Byam Shaw and Katrina Woolley’s original play, Pines follows the arc of an adolescent girl (Elsa) struggling with social anxiety through the clever conceit of a forest. This forest is pervasive – the audience are privy to the conceit and see onstage the animal masks, forest floor and beast that function in Elsa’s mind.
As the audience file into the theatre Sarah Renard is already in character as Elsa, shivering in the cold and dark on a scattering of leaves. Elsa, full of anxiety, is stalked by Celia Higson’s brilliant ‘Beast’ throughout. Sneering, she offers a startling embodiment of Elsa’s fears: “you’re a joke Elsa, and not a funny one at that” she spits at one point. The play follows Elsa to school where she strikes up a friendship with the new boy in class, Alistair, who buoys her confidence when he confides that he also sees Elsa’s forest. After a bullying incident they run away together, with Elsa ending up isolated and encouraged by the Beast to commit suicide in order to escape the forest.
Pines, while brilliantly conceived was often overacted and overwritten. The performance is congested with soliloquies that agonise over the forest metaphor with little genuine character development. Lighting and sound lacked imagination as well: instead of enveloping the audience within the forest and extending the metaphor of Elsa’s anxiety, the audience was subjected to the same semi-eerie, tinny looping piano appearing repeatedly in scenes and during scene changes. Despite this, Jonathan O’Neill’s soliloquy as Ben (Elsa’s older brother and carer) was intelligent and genuinely melancholy. Celia Higson’s physical work – especially when she was silent – portrayed a dark malevolence, her staring and walk being particularly visually striking. The costume department also deserve credit for producing genuinely menacing masks.
Although falling short in a number of areas, Pines is an innovative example of new theatre writing which was, on the whole, enjoyable.