Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone (the title comes from John Steinbeck's East of Eden) reminded me of how one can take up a photo album of one's own past days and, starting at page one, continue by trawling though the contents as the fancy takes, forwards and backwards. Playwright Selma Dimitrijevic has chosen to represent her mother/daughter in this two-hander in four carefully-sifted vignettes, with nothing of the random about them. Although she zigzags through the conventional, linear timeline, she does so in a way that generates interest rather than confusion as she explores daughter Annie's growing understanding of the limits of her mother's empathy with her, let alone any deep, maternal affection.
Director Cesca Echlin, Theatre Editor of Cherwell, has both mother (Lara Deering) and daughter (Nancy Case) intriguingly kitted out all in shades of turquoise – even down to Mother's tea mug – and she gains leverage from having them planted immobile and facing each other in plastic chairs, then later in stark contrast move jaggedly about the playing space, weaving an intricate and restless pattern as though chasing each other's tail. Mother worries away about bad weather to come, then the absence of a bath chez Annie, before launching into an unprovoked charge of: 'I don't like the way you drive'.
The skirmishing moves on to Annie being harried into revealing her boyfriend was unemployed, her mother probing and needling her like someone wobbling a loose tooth or worrying at a scab. When that relationship breaks up, her mother jumps instantly to assign fault to Annie: 'He was your last chance!'. She employs her sister, Aunt Marie, as a proxy for her own resentment, her discontent seemingly chronic. Development occurs with balance of power beginning to shift, Annie quietly assuming a measure of ascendancy, sensing perhaps that she holds the moral advantage. She repeatedly asks after her absent father, before the arrival of a piece of verbal business involving a cup of tea, putting me in mind of the celebrated exchange between Carroll's Alice and the March Hare.
In the fourth scene the jousting continues, both characters now coming out with a flood of questions, every one batted away by means of the riposte of a counter question. No common ground is established, with Annie reflecting upon her mother's development: 'You became angrier. You became mean'. The drama ends abruptly, words having gained each character little, as they are reduced to hard breathing and a silence of desperation.
I've admired both Nancy Case and Lara Deering in the past, the former as a notably well-spoken Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet and the latter as an expressive Anya in The Cherry Orchard, and both are again very good.
Given the mere 45-minute running time, Rose on a Rail Theatre – great name – has neither scope nor time to explore how these two troubled souls, particularly the mother, arrived at here from earlier days in their lives, and that's always a little frustrating for the psycho-drama fancier. Nevertheless there's plenty of food for thought in this little play, and the experience is well worth a tasting this week.