Who knew there was a theatre within the National Archives at Kew? There is and the company in residence is Q2 Players, an amateur group which on the strength of this production is capable of punching comfortably above its weight among the many community theatre groups in this area of London.
Living Memory is a new play and with its theme – that the past can and often does blur into the present through the endurance of physical records and objects – it is perfectly suited for the Archives. The setting is a cottage in the countryside where the plot unwinds on what is effectively a twin stage in twin timelines – the 1940s and the present. The technical side of the production is excellent, especially on the 1940s side of the stage where the cottage and even the wider world outside are brought to life through clever lighting and an expressive set design.
Two couples, one in each time, are healing – or trying to heal – after a tragedy. In the ‘40s, they are Frank and Ruby, portrayed with sensitivity to the period by Fliss Morgan and Craig Cameron Fisher: the actors bring vividly to life what might be considered fairly stock characters by adding depth through a gesture or, in Fisher’s case, subtle changes to his bearing with the passage of time. In the present, Mia Skytte and Matt Tester – as a slightly mismatched couple, Jerry and Jo – find their marriage tested by things they cannot control as well as, in Jo’s case, things they can. Skytte has the main role in the play and the highs and lows of Jo’s journey clearly resonated with the audience as did the efforts of her sister Rachel, nicely played by Simone White, to help Jo decide what to do. As well as the main cast, there are two very funny cameos from Hugh Cox, absolutely hilarious as Jo’s boss – seemingly channelling one of our least-loved political leaders – and Andrea Wilkins as Gracie, Ruby’s compulsive talker of a sister.
The script of Living Memory is very strong although Act One does need a little pruning, especially a scene between Jerry and Jo in which the dialogue becomes a little circular. In addition to writing, Trickett also directs and, as might be expected, she is careful to bring out the play’s subtleties especially in a wordless sequence, handled superbly by all concerned, and in a tiny jewel of a moment when what happens on one side of the stage is simultaneously presented in reverse on the other. The production is tight and the illusion of the twin times works well except in one scene where it is slightly undermined when, rather than use a recording, one of the present day characters appears on the 1940s side and even interacts with one of the props. Overall, Trickett is very well served by her cast, especially the two leading women.
This is a strong and well directed production of a very good play with an enigmatic and beautifully realised ending.
Review by Louis Mazzini
It is 2018, and Jo has just moved into her dream cottage with her loving husband. But what is she running from? Back in 1945, Ruby battles to save her marriage to Frank, after a family tragedy threatens to tear them apart.
Will the two women find in each other the strength they need to survive?
Can friendship really traverse the ages?
The National Archives, Bessant Drive, Richmond, TW9 4DU