Review – Guesthouse by Nicola Wernowska

Guesthouse by Nicola Wernowska – Eastern Angles – Walton Community Hall and touring.

Eastern Angles go back to their roots with this very localised play set in Clacton and following the relationship of three generations of women in the B&B business. The title suggests its going to be about the rise and fall of the seaside landlady – but this is a play still to be written. Or maybe its in here somewhere.

What we do have is an intimate study of three women whose lives have been damaged by inadequate men, and who in turn have damaged each other rather than retained a female solidarity in the face of disappointment and abandonment. An interesting subject – but one that is given rather heavy handed treatment by writer Nicola Wernowska.

Val was a teenager from Jaywick in the 60’s when she meets Brian whose family run a guest house in Clacton. He’s a few years older, a good dancer and cocky with it. He marries Val as soon as they can – she giving up any hopes of going to university to take on the guest house with him, and settles for a life of hard work and loneliness when Brian descends into depression and hits the bottle, eventually killing himself.

Daughter Lisa is the apple of her daddy’s eye – but suffers a breakdown and mental health issues while away at college that estrange her from her mother.

Lisa too has a daughter – we never find out who the father was – who she leaves with Val to bring up and who subsequently grows up with abandonment issues.

These are all big subjects – and there are times in this play when you begin to feel it coming to life. But unfortunately there’s just too much for this small set and even smaller hall to get to grips with.

We get off to a very slow start with Val giving one of a number of monologues looking back over her life. Amanda Bellamy gives the part her all – but she lacks subtlety of delivery and pace that would make her a sympathetic character. Clare Humphrey on the other hand is a bit too understated as daughter Lisa – coming back after her failed marriage to try and make amends with both her mother and daughter Chloe. Eleanor Jackson plays her as a petulant teenager – yet she’s meant to be about 24 and living in London with her boy friend. This is the fault of the script rather than the acting.

Director Tony Casement doesn’t give the actors a lot to work with either. The set is very cramped and it felt constrictive to the actors exploring the roles. The projections and the use of them are good – and help set the time lines during the monologues. I liked the soundscape as well. But I wish the writer had not thrown so much into the mix, for as each revelation emerges the plot becomes more of a cliché and  less and less believable.

There are some good scenes – especially in the second half when there’s less looking back and more focus on the current relationships. But the plot meanders and there is no dramatic tension as everything interesting is told us in flash back.

The best scene is the last one – as all three women perform repetitive tasks while talking over each other or finishing each others sentences. They are stuck in a loop created by their shared history and from which they will probably never escape, consigned to running the guest house till the last customer has packed up and gone.

And there’s still a play to be written about the rise and fall of our seaside tourist industry.

Suzanne Hawkes

 

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