“Evelyn” is one of those plays that you need to sleep on before making up your own opinion. It talks about a triggering social issue in a non-obvious way and uses certain artistic choices that may not be everyone’s cup of tea – so just a heads up on that. But let’s start from the beginning.
Evelyn – a small-town tale inspired by real events
The story takes place in a small seaside town – Walton-On-The-Naze. If you’ve ever been on a holiday on the British coast, you will understand the mood right away. There’s the sound of seagulls, sea waves, and a one-man band playing the seaside classics on the keyboard-accordion set. And a set of Punch and Judy puppets, however, portrayed a bit more evil than you probably are used to.
A new person arrives in town. She introduces herself as Sandra (portrayed by Nicola Harrison) and moves in into a rented room offered by the charming yet a bit disconnected from reality Jeanne (Rula Lenska). As time goes by, we follow Sandra’s attempts to fit into the local community and lifestyle of a small town. At the same time, Sandra’s past remains a mystery and triggers some questions among the locals. There seems to be a chance for her to be a woman who, in the past, gave her child-killing partner a false alibi and served time for it. As scenarios for Sandra’s true identity arise, so does the tension, and eventually, aggression…
A tale of true relationships
What makes the play shine are the two lead actresses. The relationship of a lonely elderly Jeanne, who slowly loses her memory and control over own life, and a younger woman still looking for a place in the world (Sandra), was written brilliantly. It develops slowly over long evenings on the porch of the house, and classic movie evenings. It moves from an acquaintance level to a true family bond, all within the span of the play.
This one seems much more real than the romantic connection between Sandra and Kevin (a local man who at a certain point starts to date her). This relationship seemed a bit rushed and not physical or intimate for me to be truly believable.
But eventually, this play is mostly about online and offline relations. The local society meets on apps like NextDoor or local Facebook groups. The play showcases how an innocent suggestion or gossip can grow into a group attitude, and eventually – an angry mob.
Brilliant lead female roles
Rula Lenska gives a magnificent performance as Jeanne – she is a colorful bird trapped in a small seaside chalet. She’s like the loud, fun auntie you always liked and who kept on giving you sweets under the table because she knew your parents wouldn’t approve of it. Lenska’s acting skills shine through as she portrays the decay of her character’s mental health through two acts.
Nicola Harrison paints a kind of opposite female character – a quiet, introverted, with weak self-confidence. She seems easily controlled, but then she has her goal from the very beginning and sticks to it – which does offer a little hope in terms of Sandra’s future.
The circus-like vibe
The play uses masks/puppets visuals to showcase the crowd’s opinions and exaggerates their comments and behaviour online. The moments of puppetry turned the otherwise realistic play into a circus-like metaphor, and make the flow of the play a sinusoid of loud and crazy vs quiet and emotional. To me, it was a little bit too much of a ride, as some of the “puppetry” moments got a little too crazy and irrational.
“Evelyn” touches on the issue of an “angry mob” and the build-up of social opinion on an emotional note. It’s part-thriller, part-drama with lots of emotional ups and downs. If a story that doesn’t give a straight answer is what you’re looking for, it’s the right show for you.
Directed by: Madelaine Moore
Written by: Tom Ratcliffe
Produced by: George Warren and Simon Paris
Ticket price: £22+
Until 16 July 2022