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Sunnymead Court at Tristan Bates Theatre | The Actors Centre | Review

Remmie Milner (Stella), Gemma Lawrence (Marie). Credit Lidia Crisafulli.
Remmie Milner (Stella), Gemma Lawrence (Marie). Credit Lidia Crisafulli.

Marie (Gemma Lawrence) and Stella (Remmie Milner) live in separate properties on the same estate. They catch each other’s gaze because their respective balconies face each other. Marie is working from home, and in order to maintain some sense of balance and order, she takes several breaks during her long working days. One of those involves playing her favourite song at a certain time of day – Stella picks up on this and finds herself willing Marie to shake her routine up a little, or indeed a lot.

Whether either woman would admit to it, it was love at first sight, somewhat to the chagrin of Stella’s mother, whom Stella has moved back in with due to a change in her financial circumstances. Interestingly, Sunnymead Court doesn’t delve deeply into the reasons behind an instruction to Stella from her mother not to have anything to do with Marie. Homophobia could be at the root cause, but then again it might have been that she simply feels Marie has a right to privacy, and perhaps she feels her daughter would do well to just let Marie get on with her life without some nosy neighbour periodically looking in and observing what she is up to.

Much is recognisable in the production, if only because events in the play took place in the months following after The Great Shutdown of 2020. But even in the recalling of such seemingly trivial details as the manner in which their local regular postman would conduct his morning round, it’s indicative of how going into lockdown has allowed people to use time and energy to appreciate what really matters to them.

The awkwardness experienced by both characters is captured brilliantly – Marie not only goes weak at the knees but finds herself literally floored by Stella’s stunning looks. But as they can barely call themselves acquaintances let alone friends, communication is sparse, and there is some humour to be had in both characters interpreting events (or, indeed, non-events) according to their own assumptions. The play is heavy on exposition, with each character voicing their thoughts to the audience, and character development is as good as it could be in the forty-five-minute running time.

It is, however, a story that seems to be crying out for a second half, or at least twenty minutes more. That said, this is very much a play for ‘now’ – autumn 2020, and it is, as I have said many times before, better to leave the audience wanting more than to overstay one’s welcome. The use of technology only serves to enhance the feeling of social and emotional detachment in the ‘new normal’ (quite possibly the very point the production sought to demonstrate), and it is very telling that the most poignant moment occurs when there is (socially distanced) face-to-face conversation.

It is still relatively rare to have stories on stage about two women attracted to one another. That this production tells its story as convincingly as it does is to be commended.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s been hot for days and now the air is heavy with the promise of something else. Thick. With something else.”

From her balcony, Marie blasts out the same tune, every day at 11am. On hers, Stella tends to red
geraniums bursting with colour and life.
Sometimes the hardest thing is to say hello.

After a chance encounter in a hailstorm, they start to embark on a new relationship conducted from
the safety of their balconies. But when a flurry of miscommunication jeopardises their relationship,
will they have the courage to make it work in a world that is changing faster than ever?

Defibrillator in association with The Actors Centre presents
SUNNYMEAD COURT
By Gemma Lawrence
Cast: Gemma Lawrence and Remmie Milner
Directed by James Hillier; Produced by Jack Holden
22 September – 3 October 2020
Press night: 24 September at 7pm & 8.30pm
https://www.actorscentre.co.uk/

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