It’s not often that I get a genuine feeling that I am down in the basement, in amongst the bins and black bags of the refuse and recycling storage area of a loading bay, directly below a housing estate. But Trash is such a powerful play that once the setting has been quickly established, I wanted to stay and pay attention to this part-conversation, part-argument, part-fight between Diane (Emma Shenkman) and Becky (Georgina Philipps), sisters for whom sibling rivalry not only runs deep but intensely troubling, and even life-threatening. Mercifully, there is no actual smell of rubbish bins.
To be frank, this play wouldn’t work if it were two brothers. They would either kill each other very quickly, or storm off in a huff thus ending the conversation immediately, or give up trying to find a needle in a haystack and head over to the pub. The needle in a haystack in question is the last letter from the sisters’ recently departed mother; the circumstances as to how it ended up mislaid are, as virtually everything is between these two, disputed. But they are at least agreed it went in the bin.
It is tortuous to witness siblings tear each other apart – both psychologically and physically; I admit, however, with a modicum of embarrassment, that there is something quite appealing watching two women smash each other on stage. The fight scenes are a guilty pleasure for people like me who themselves maintain minimal contact with siblings as it’s just too much hassle and aggravation. It’s refreshing, at least for the characters, to get their frustration out of their systems. They have not even seen each other for three years (having reunited for their mother’s funeral), so there have been plenty of pent-up feelings between the pair, who, it seems, never really enjoyed even cordial relations with each other growing up. Even if Diane stoically admits that Becky could seek to press charges against her for assault.
One or two of the sound effects, I felt, were unnecessary, and when amplified to compete against the voices of the actors, distracting. I hasten to add that most of the sound effects were helpful. Traffic noise and the beeps of reversing lorries served as useful reminders that we were outside amongst the rubbish. Further, the odd line from Georgina Philipps sounded a bit stilted. One or two other lines sounded rushed. Perhaps this was deliberate: we are, after all, talking about two characters in an absurd situation, rummaging through other people’s refuse to find a solitary letter.
There are so many imponderables remaining by the end of the play, which I personally find quite distinctive. Maybe I’ve seen too many shows where everything is suddenly wrapped up nicely in order to get to a rapid conclusion. The set, despite looking like a work of post-modern art, takes about as much thought as a work of post-modern art to create (that is, quite a lot) – there is a fairly precise manner in which bags and boxes are lifted out. There has to be, otherwise parts of the script would be difficult to enact, and it is to Shenkman and Philipps’ credit that they make it look like the piles of rubbish are being dissected randomly. I wouldn’t exactly call it choreography – if I were to call it anything it’s ‘manual handling’!
Despite the vitriolic abuse that passes between them – and, I should warn you, it’s relentless – there’s still a degree of sympathy for Becky, the recovering druggie, and Diane, the older sibling of the prodigal daughter, the one who stayed at home and worked hard. The situation is very tense from the very start, so it’s a challenge for the two actors (I have dispensed with the term ‘actresses’ altogether, after consulting with fellow reviewers and people who work in the industry) to maintain a highly strung atmosphere. They do so very well.
It’s weirdly fun, despite there being few (if any) moments of hope or humanity. Surprisingly engaging, the show explores what is really important in life, because you can’t even take your ‘trash’ with you when you go. And I loved how the dialogue itself considers the possibility of trawling through a rubbish dump being a metaphor for the siblings’ lives: the play beat me to a prospective analogy. Unceasing in its mercilessness, it held my attention, and I have no qualms recommending this production to those who prefer to see theatre that’s as far away from the love stories of the big musicals as possible.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Trash by Arthur M. Jolly
Indigo Iris Productions present the UK premiere of TRASH
Cast: Georgina Philipps and Emma Shenkman
Directed by Andrew Fielding-Day
Diane and Becky are two very different sisters who come together for the first time in three years for their mother’s funeral. Both are haunted by their own personal demons and have very different memories of the same events including the illness and death of their mother.
Her final letter to one of the sisters was thrown away and in a desperate attempt to recover it from the rubbish tip, the pair of them, knee deep in filth, finally confront the resentment and abandonment that has defined the past few years of their crippled relationship.
TRASH Trailer 2015
Arthur M. Jolly is an American playwright and screenwriter. His dramas sometimes verge into dark territory and even physical violence, but always with an underlying sense of optimism. Trash was written in 2011, and premiered in Chicago the following year. It was a semi-finalist for the 2012 O’Neill Playwrights Conference and the winner of the 2011/2012 Joining Sword and Pen competition.
Indigo Iris is a new company founded by Emma Shenkman (Diane) and Georgina Philipps (Becky) who met while training at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York.
8th to 19th September 2015
Sunday 13th show at 6.00pm
Friday 11th September 2015