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Tenderfoot by Edith Pearlman at Drayton Arms Theatre

A brief review of a very brief play. Both Bobby (Aaron Cash) and Paige (Abi Kessel) are narrators in a script with very little dialogue. Edith Pearlman’s short story, Tenderfoot, one of several tales in a book called Honeydew, is essentially recited from beginning to end. But rather than stand and deliver, the actors make good use of the stage space, and incorporate dance and physical theatre into their storytelling. Both work hard, which while commendable in its own right, also meant I felt I was working harder than I had expected, in order to try to figure out possible double meanings or deeper explorations, in what was being dramatized.

Tenderfoot – rehearsal photo credit Josselyn Ryder.

Other times, however, there wasn’t much to interpret. Bobby tells us, “Bobby took off his own shoes”, whilst taking off his own shoes, which made me wonder if this might as well have been a radio play. “He took off his left sock and rested the left foot on his right knee.” No prizes for guessing what happened on stage at that point. The third-person narrative might well give audiences reason to believe that the accounts are (more or less) accurate, in the sense that a first-person narrative is likelier to be thought of as possibly clouded by the passage of time and/or personal emotions.

At the same time, however, the third person narrative creates a distancing effect. It is as though the events being described are happening elsewhere, and all the bells and whistles the production throws into the mix weren’t quite enough to hold my attention from start to finish. That said, the story itself is relatable and (almost) universal, dealing with how people carry on living after experiencing unexpected loss.

Having something meant to be read being spoken as well as acted out left too little to the imagination, and while there’s no doubting Edith Pearlman’s ability to spin an excellent yarn, it just didn’t feel like a sufficiently satisfying evening at the theatre. I liked the nuanced approach taken in a story that could easily have tipped over into melodrama. Perhaps if it were presented as a double or even triple bill with one or two of Pearlman’s other stories, there would be more to ponder on.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Two people from two very different life experiences share the same space for a short length of time. Both are carrying uncomfortable and unspoken memories. Their meeting means that finally they can own the choices made and move forward, however hesitantly, leaving regrets behind.

The subtlety and ‘restrained tenderness’ of Edith Pearlman’s writing creates a collision of distance and closeness; seeing through windows, watching the other. It explores the need for connection and the difference between seeing and understanding. The characters see each other through their own frames of reference and need.

This brand new production uses Pearlman’s entire short story to explore the tracks, traces, tendrils and footprints of this text, to embody the language and explore life creating its own narrative.

Designed by Geraldine Pilgrim
Produced by Audrey Thayer
Production Manager Alice Greening
Sound Design by Dave Eringa
Composer Emre Ramazanoglu
Graphic Design by Sebastian Massei

By Edith Pearlman
Directed by Penny Cherns
Starring Aaron Cash & Abi Kessel

Location: Drayton Arms Theatre
Address: 153 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0LJ
Dates: April 26th- 30th

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