In a year in which the ‘International Bognor Birdman Organising Committee’ cancelled their annual event as they were unable to secure the funding required to proceed, comes a production of Caterpillar, set in an unspecified seaside town in which people attempt to see how far they can ‘fly’ by running off an elevated ramp at the end of the pier, aided by their hang glider. There’s the serious competition, which this play acknowledges, but the focus is on what Simon (Alan Mahon) is taking part in, which is more about participating in the event in honour of a charitable cause or, in Simon’s case, the memory of someone very close to him.
Maeve (Tricia Kelly), a hotelier, is still recovering from a stroke. Fiercely independent, she has reluctantly acknowledged she has taken on too much too soon, and her daughter Claire (Judith Amsenga) has come over to help. But has Claire overstayed her welcome? That would have been rather less questionable had Simon not knocked on the front door, arriving for a weekend stay when Claire was quite sure she had emailed every booker to say their booking had been cancelled for that weekend – the usual apologies due to circumstances beyond the hotel operator’s control.
For reasons that become clear in the narrative – eventually – Claire would rather be looking after her mother than be at home. What’s curious is that it’s her son’s birthday and she’s missing the party, despite Maeve’s strong encouragements to head back home, and then later, there’s Simon’s blunt statement, “Go home, Claire. Be a mother. Be a human”. Running parallel to this story is Simon’s attempt to take part in the competition: the obstacles he faces seem to be a metaphor for a more general struggle in life. In short, it takes grit and determination to see something through, but (one hopes, at least) the result will be fulfilling and rewarding.
A stressed-out Claire and a stressed-out Simon, under the same roof. What could transpire? I suppose I should be grateful there wasn’t a full pants-down demonstration. Perhaps I am being a little generous, but even in the slightly predictable second half, there’s much to be said for teamwork and dedication when (possible spoiler alert) the pair set about mending Simon’s damaged hang glider. The show is entirely set in Maeve’s front room, which does look very stylish and welcoming, easy on the eyes.
The script works well, with Claire’s acerbic tongue clearly inherited, and each layer of the storyline reveals increasingly darker truths that create a contrast with the warm and inviting nature of the room. It did seem almost inevitable that the bright and breezy start to proceedings wasn’t going to last to the end, though the sense of humour, sometimes dark, sometimes sassy, keeps things far from depressing. There’s much to be taken away about love and life in this amusing and multi-layered production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Set against the backdrop of a sleepy seaside town, the world premiere of Alison Carr’s enigmatic drama sees three characters build smokescreens around themselves, hiding from their responsibilities, themselves and each other. A finalist for the 2016 Theatre503 playwrighting award, Caterpillar follows a man trying to fulfill a strange promise to compete in Bognor Regis’ Birdman competition as he accidentally ends up more involved than intended in the lives of the mother and daughter running his B&B. Struggling to live up to expectations as a mother perhaps a leap of faith is exactly what is needed, to fly or fall, things can’t carry on as they are.
Every year in the seaside town of Bognor Regis, people throw themselves off the end of a pier in an attempt to win the International Birdman competition. Joining the other pot-bellied Spidermen falling into the sea, Simon arrives at Bayview B&B looking for somewhere to stay the night, but when he meets owner Maeve and her daughter Claire, not everything is as it seems. Combining dark comedy and tender drama, Caterpillar explores the moment when we find ourselves standing on the edge, and whether we dare to step off.
The world premiere of Theatre503’s playwrighting award finalist by emerging playwright Alison Carr.
Written by Alison Carr | Directed by Yasmeen Arden
Theatre503, 29 August – 22 September 2018
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Westborough, North Yorkshire YO11 1JW