Rating: 3 words: Mythic, Haunting, Strained
Matt Grinter’s new play won this year’s Papatango award, and you can see why. It’s a taut piece of writing that manages to be both present and political, poetic and mythic. The story revolves around a small island which every year holds a festival to commemorate one of it’s legends. Young, innocent, quirky Fan cannot wait to dance, and possibly be selected as the year’s ceremonial “Daughter.” Yet a cloud hangs over her older sister Maggie, previously a Daughter herself; she is clearly scarred by the experience. So much so that when she started speaking out about it, the community banished the family to a kind of exile on the far side of the island. Meanwhile, last year’s Daughter Gretchen has washed up on the shore by their house. Is she too another casualty of the ritual? Fan and Maggie’s father Joshua is having none of it. But matters come to a head when the island’s looming, mayoral “Father,” who chooses the daughter, proposes bringing the family back into the fold, provided Maggie ceases with her silly talk.
If you’ve already guessed what being a Daughter involves, then you’ve hit on one of the dramaturgical weaknesses in the play. Yet it nonetheless makes for a powerful study of how a community justifies and sustains its own behaviour, even when that behaviour clearly damages and scars its inhabitants. As an allegory, it has far too many real-world counterparts. We are even feeling them today, after the result of the US election .
So, given this scope, the world of the play as interpreted by Director Alice Hamilton feels a little limited. A quasi-naturalism that seems inspired by The Quiet Man (by way of the Outer Hebrides) extends to the text, the scenes, the acting, and inhibits the heightened language and plot. There are moments when the production doesn’t quite match the story it is telling, and loses its way. Nonetheless, a strong, accomplished cast, with a particularly nuanced performance from Carla Langley as Fan, manage to bring this haunting tale home.
On at the Southwark Playhouse until the 26th of November