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From Afar by David Coverdale at the Vault Festival

From AfarAs this production is presented as a work in progress, a star rating is not given. This is not, of course, the same as a no-star rating – From Afar is a warm and charming play (if, as it stands, a rather brief one, coming in at just under half an hour). Catherine Millsom takes on the role of Agnes, who works for the Royal Mail – an organisation that, as an acquaintance who used to work for the Post Office has told me repeatedly, is an entirely separate entity from the Post Office, with different boards of directors and organisational cultures.

My acquaintance is invariably biased in claiming that it isn’t the Post Office that loses people’s mail, which I suppose is technically true – once a letter or parcel whose postage fees have been paid for at the Post Office enters the Royal Mail’s network, it has effectively been handed over to another company. Agnes holds down a steady job in a sorting office, and at this particular one, the staff rarely engage in banter: it seems to be one of those places where people keep their heads down and get on with it.

Agnes palpably enjoys her work, but what I would consider mind-numbingly repetitive duties is commensurate with her thought patterns turning to the possible contents of the correspondence that she deals with – and even in the digital era, where so much written communication is done electronically, including this review you’re reading, there are still some things, such as cards of condolence or congratulations, that are best done with pen and paper. I wondered at one point if the play was actually set a generation or two ago, but then Agnes starts talking about people on public transport on wireless headphones watching the latest instalment of their downloaded programme of choice.

The play’s critical incident would have my ex-Post Office acquaintance telling me once more that it’s not the Post Office but the Royal Mail that doesn’t always deliver. But the more salient point, in any event, seems to be that Agnes does not feel she has anyone to turn to at work for support, aside from one colleague, and even then, Agnes enjoys the silences between them more than the conversations. The play doesn’t seek to launch an attack on the Royal Mail, a company large enough to presumably have an occupational health and wellbeing programme, but rather to highlight that one need not suffer in silence.

The story is engaging and well-paced, and it’s never a bad thing to come out of a play thinking, “Then what happened?”. The ambience of the venue (the Travelling Through bookshop and café) suits the subtlety of the play, removed from the noise and activity of the main Vault Festival hub. An intriguing piece of theatre, it will be interesting to see how it develops in due course.

Review by Chris Omaweng

‘Mum said you could tell everything you needed to know about a person from their pencil case. I always wondered if she did that when she was choosing to marry my Dad, but now I know that isn’t the kind of question I should be asking. Proudly proclaiming to my friends that I was so sure my Dad had a wonderful pencil case probably wasn’t the best thing for a much younger me to do. ‘

From her table in the corner, Agnes sees the world for what it really can be.

An amusing and touching portrait of a life spent writing letters, From Afar is dedicated to the real-life Agnes.

Cast:
Catherine Millsom – Agnes

Creative:
Writer/Producer – David Coverdale
Dramaturgy/Direction – Ashleigh Packham
Company Stage Manager – Gabriella Bland

From Afar by David Coverdale
Wednesday 6th to Saturday 9th March 2019 – 18:45

Travelling Through Bookshop, 131 Lower Marsh, SE1 7AE
All tickets £10
https://vaultfestival.com
Twitter: @FromAfarPlay

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