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Eleemosynary by Lee Blessing at Waterloo East Theatre

I really enjoy being a reviewer. In my time, I’ve seen so many different types of plays and shows, many of which take me outside of my comfort zone – apparently, I can’t just watch musicals and count jazz hands. I like most things and try to be as positive as possible about the shows I see whilst always remaining honest about my impression of it. The reason I’m saying all this is because occasionally an absolute zinger of a show pops up out of nowhere and absolutely blows my mind. One example is Eleemosynary by Lee Blessing which is having its UK premiere at the Waterloo East Theatre.

Eleemosynary by Lee BlessingThis one-act play revolves around three generations of women. Grandmother Dorothea (Jennifer Wiltsie), her daughter Artie (Kathryn Crosby) and granddaughter Echo (Georgia Dixon). Theirs is not an easy relationship. Dorothea is an acknowledged eccentric and Artie is very strait-laced while Echo is a bit of a child genius and contains the best parts of her mother and grandmother. Unfortunately, there has been a rift in the family and Artie has left Echo in the care of her grandmother. The only contact Echo has with her mother is via the phone when Artie tests Echo’s spelling as she moves through the realms of ‘Spelling Bee’ competitions. Echo loves these moments and hopes if she makes it to the final, her mother and grandmother will finally be reconciled as they celebrate her triumph.

Let’s start this review off with the negatives from this production. Oh right, there weren’t any. Persever Productions have just got this show right from every angle. The writing is entertaining and not only very realistic but, on a personal level, I was surprised how many of the vignettes demonstrating the relationships hit home with me personally. These were not just people I recognised but, at times, people who were a major part of my life.

On the characters, the three actors were perfect not only in their looks – full credit to Charlie Barker & Emily Barker there – but in every aspect of their personality. Two minutes in, you knew that Dorothea was an eccentric – think Blithe Spirit‘s Madame Arcati with all the filters removed. You also quickly knew who and what Artie was – here you should think of Miss Jean Brodie with an American Accent, and you also realised that Echo had taken the best of both her relatives and made those characteristics hers. The three actors have a real chemistry and bring their characters out into the world as fully formed identifiable people who are linked by ties of blood, no matter what happens in their lives. I’ve said before sometimes the hardest thing an actor can do is nothing and those moments where a character is not directly involved in a scene, such as when Dorothea is confined to a chair following a stroke – not a spoiler as it’s mentioned in the first minute of the play – where the power of the character is totally dependent on in the non-movement, which Wiltsie ‘performs’ beautifully.

I’m also going to mention two points where Crosby’s performance really stood out. The first was when she finally lost her self-control for a moment. At that point, the words ‘you could have heard a pin drop’ could not be more apt as the entire audience held its collective breath. The second was, another moment of no movement near the end where Echo is talking to Artie. Standing near the front of the stage, fully exposed to the audience, Crosby’s reaction to the speech was amazing to see and brought this reviewer very close to tears. Oh, all right I blubbed a bit. Now Echo, and the first thing I have to say is that I have total sympathy with Crosby for memorising and delivering one of the most complicated scripts I think any actor has faced. I also have to praise their total commitment not only to the character but, especially during the Spelling Bee final, drawing everyone into the point where we were totally emotionally invested in a competition between two precocious American teens who can spell. Magic.

Director Charlie Barker keeps the movement at a level where every step is part of that character; Dorothea is flamboyant and expansive, Artie clenched and anxious and Echo a combination of both.

Yes, I liked Eleemosynary. Let’s be honest, I loved it. A wonderful text, with three truly superb actors and a story that touches the heart. This is a play that can do no wrong. As with all plays this good, when the lights went down, I wanted more and wanted to know what happened next.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

This award-winning play focuses on the lives of three generations of women:
Dorothea; her daughter, Artie; and Artie’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Echo.

Through fragmented vignettes we see the lives of the three women as they struggle to define themselves both as individuals and as part of a family unit.

In this poignant study of familial relationships, Eleemosynary highlights the human need for connection and forgiveness

Directed by Charlie Barker

Dorothea: Jennifer Wiltsie
Artie: Kathryn Crosby
Echo: Georgia Dixon

Co – Designers: Charlie Barker & Emily Barker
Lighting: Jonathan Simpson
Stage Manager: Jaimie Wakefield
Producer: Becky Armes

4th – 22nd of May 2022

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