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Wobegone at the Bread and Roses Theatre | Review

This isn’t quite one of those shows where everything is more or less okay before a critical incident seemingly comes out of nowhere and blindsides everyone, permanently changing the trajectory of the rest of the characters’ lives. To be clear, there is a critical incident. But everything is not altogether all right beforehand, in a narrative that begins with a state of awkwardness that exists between three housemates, ostensibly because Harry (Alex Teager) is asleep on the couch in the front room. Joy (Olivia Woolhouse) is preparing to leave for work, and needs her keys, but they’re underneath Harry. He’s unfailingly polite and apologetic once Dani (Rhia Victoria), Harry’s love interest, is roused out of bed herself.

Wobegone - Credit Amber Van Der Brugge.
Wobegone – Credit Amber Van Der Brugge.

Amy (Lucy Renton), a primary school teacher, isn’t exactly chuffed – if I may use a northern term from a northern play – that Dani is around at all. She (that is, Dani) used to live with Joy and Amy but left to pursue opportunities elsewhere, and in Amy’s mind, because she’s returned to their shared flat after three years of near total silence without so much as birthday or Christmas greetings, and without a current job, she’s freeloading, thinking everything in a previous three-fold friendship can simply resume as though nothing had happened.

Of course, plenty has gone on, and people aren’t the same people they were three years ago. But coming of age for these ladies who met (if I recall correctly) at university comes in various forms, which the audience comes to know about through a combination of reminiscences of past experiences and events as they happen in the present. There’s some humour in the script worthy of a television situation comedy, but ultimately, it’s a tale of trying to overcome so many of life’s obstacles and challenges, with varying degrees of success.

Rather like the West End production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which provides its audience with an alarming statistic about how many people have died in police custody since 1990, there’s an equally startling figure at the end of this show strongly related to the narrative – that of the number of women each year who experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales. (The actual figure is very, very likely to be considerably higher than the one provided, given that not every rape or sexual assault is reported.) By projecting the figure on the back wall of the stage between certain scenes, without context, the number is etched on the audience’s minds, and when its significance is finally revealed, its impact is intense.

Given the heavy content in later scenes, the show would benefit from a trigger warning of some kind. Overall, a decent amount of attention is paid to everyday details, such as the flatmates running short on milk, or characters keeping their voices down so as not to disturb others in the flat, which all adds to the show’s realism. The entire play is set in the same front room, which allows for relatively quick scene changes. The script could do with a little tightening in places – a few too many times someone turns to leave the room, and thus the flat, only to turn back for one reason or another.

Some intriguing dialogue in the last few minutes provides a compelling account of how people try to pick up the pieces after the critical incident, as well as how tragedy can inspire the healing of wounds of those left behind. There’s a bittersweet conclusion to a show that runs through a wide range of human emotions, and is a worthwhile watch.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Former best friends Joy, Amy and Dani are suddenly reunited by their downfalls, as they’re trying – really trying – to navigate a world that isn’t built for them. It doesn’t take them long to realise that distance has fractured their friendship, as Dani is determined to hold onto her youth whilst Joy and Amy have no choice but to move forward. They are torn apart by the disturbing reality of how dangerous being a woman can be.

Creative Team
Starring Alex Teager, Olivia Woolhouse, Rhia Victoria & Lucy Renton
Emily Susanne Lloyd – Director
Sophie Schmidt – Lighting Designer
Hannah Sheldon – Sound Designer
PH Chew – Set Designer

Running Time: 90 minutes – no interval

Content warnings: Strong language, sexual assault, and murder
The Bread & Roses Theatre 68 Clapham Manor Street, Clapham SW4 6DZ
27th Jun 2023 – 1st Jul 2023

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