The past is always with us. What has happened shapes our present and influences our future maybe even changing it forever. As a theme, this was explored to great effect by Frank Marcus in two one act plays “The Window” and “Blank Pages” at The Hope Theatre Islington.
In “The Window” we meet Robert Tremayne (Daniel Simpson) a late middle-aged blind man, confined to his bed following a tragic car ‘accident’. Robert has an interest, okay that is putting it mildly – he has an obsession with the woman that lives in the house opposite his. This obsession manifests itself in a peculiar way and tonight, instead of his regular personal assistant, Ralph (Scott Westwood), Robert has a new man to assist him in the shape of young Ken (Paul Adeyefa). Before they start, Robert tells Ken about the girl and the relationship between them. How they met when they were both children – the girl being younger than Robert – and he had nearly drowned trying to get her beach ball back from the waves. He fell in love as he heard her repeating ‘please don’t die’ over his body and throughout his life she stayed with him in reality or in his dreams or both? Ken probably doesn’t fully understand Robert’s motivation to know what the girl is doing all night – particularly as it seems to make him very agitated and depressed – but he is an ex-soldier who understands the chain of command and is being paid to describe what he sees and he does so, trying to be cold and unemotional in his reporting but at the same time allowing some personal feelings – and maybe prejudices – to appear in his narrative. At last, Robert goes to sleep and Ralph returns from wherever he had been for the evening. He talks with Ken and the two of them reveal the real secret of the night.
Following a quick, and highly effective, scene change, we moved on to “Blank Pages” and are introduced to Carole (Megan Salter) mid-twenties and a lady of definite middle class origins living in a Bayswater bedsit, who is busy looking for some document amongst a whole heap of papers. Whatever she is looking for must be important as she is emptying boxes of paper in her hunt until, quite suddenly she becomes distracted as she stumbles upon an old diary dating back ten years. She starts to read – all thoughts of her original search seemingly gone – and relives some of the memories of bygone times, most of which revolve around poor decisions and a catalogue of errors of judgement. Especially strong in her mind, are her disastrous relationship with a swarthy foreigner that led her mother – who liked to snoop through Carole’s things on her visits – to suggest she go on a trip and see the world, missing out the Iberian Peninsula, which she did. Unfortunately, Carole is not a lucky girl and gets a job as a baby’s nanny where the main work seems to be fending off the unwanted attention of her ‘rat-faced’ employer whenever his wife is away. Somehow these memories do not help Carole who has not found what she was originally looking for and probably can’t find a reason for the various mistakes she has made in her life in the pages of her diary.
“The Window” and “Blank Pages” are two very different plays written three years apart and both explore the idea of loneliness and the effects of the past in an intriguing and thought-provoking way. Director Rafaella Marcus (granddaughter of writer Frank) keeps things very simple with a wonderfully designed set by Ruta Irbite that serves both plays really well. The writing is sharp and really gives the audience pause for thought, especially in “The Window” Not only did I was I completely wrong-footed about where the story was going to be heading – I honestly had a completely different plot on mind when Ken first met Robert but, I left the theatre with a million (possible exaggeration) questions about the relationships between the three characters. Certain things were hinted at, whilst others were signalled fairly openly, that left me really wanting to know more. Daniel Simpson’s acting as Robert was just amazing. This was a man born to command – I’m guessing ex-army as he had the bearing and arrogance I encountered with certain types of officer during my time in the RAF. However, he was a human figure too and his anguish when Ken told him about certain events in the house opposite was actually upsetting to see. The two of them really made a fantastic couple as they brought these two quite different people to life superbly.
Discussing the shows afterwards, my companion favoured “Blank Pages” over “The Window” whilst I was the other way round. But to be honest, whichever production turns out to be your favourite, both are stunning examples of superb writing, brilliantly brought to life by a talented cast and crew. My one hope is that some talented writer, puts pen to paper and writes a follow up to both plays so I can satisfy my curiosity as to what happens next.
Review by Terry Eastham
the window / blank pages
Writer: FRANK MARCUS / Director: RAFAELLA MARCUS
29 September – 17 October 2015
Tuesday to Saturday
From the writer of THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, the first UK revival of two short plays, directed by his granddaughter
“Please don’t die,” she kept repeating. I remember thinking: “How funny, whoever wants to die?”
A bedridden blind man summons an ex-soldier to his apartment to spy on the actions of the woman in the flat opposite, a woman from his past. In a Bayswater bedsit, a young woman examines her old diaries and tries to make sense of the catalogue of mistakes she has made.
Let the pages remain clean and blank and unsullied. Only on the very last shall I write an appropriate epitaph.
Mingled Yarn transform The Hope Theatre into two intimate bedchambers to stage two funny, haunting psychological studies of loneliness from Frank Marcus, the writer of THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, directed by his granddaughter, Rafaella Marcus.
The performance lasts 75 minutes without Interval. No re-admittance once the performance has commenced.
Friday 2nd October 2015