In the third season of ‘New’ at RWCMD a programme of plays that brings together new writing with the RWCMD’s Richard Burton Company actors, comprising final year undergraduate and postgraduate students. Supported by Paines Plough theatre company and The Gate theatre in London this programme gives students a chance to perform new exciting work.
Ten Weeks, by Elinor Cook takes a group of people taking a course to find out about Christianity and explores their secrets and fears within the room where they come together to learn about the bigger questions in life.
At times a dark piece. Group leaders Helen (Katherine Throgood) and Adam (Luke MacGregor) steer the others in the path to discovering more about their religion while dealing with struggles in their own marriage, and Helen’s pregnancy. As they try to bring the others to a more ‘enlightened’ and ‘happy’ way of being it becomes clear their own veneer of piety, happiness and togetherness is cracked.
They are joined by five others; Jim (Daniel Borg Sunstrom), Robbie (Ben Flohr), Flora (Clara Gibbs) Dan (Euan Kitson) and Molly (Milena Valetin). Each of the group has their own issues and reasons for being there.
In such a short play (70 minutes) it’s impossible to explore each in detail, and as a result Jim’s struggles with depression are mentioned only as he leaves to the group, and the play midway through-missing perhaps a chance to discuss mental health and religion. It is a shame that Jim leaves so early in the piece because Daniel Borg Sunstrom weaves a complex and interesting character in the limited time he is around. Similarly, under-explored is Molly, a girl clearly in love with her gay best friend, but relegated to the side-lines and underdeveloped character. The boy she loves Robbie (Ben Flohr) given slightly more to play with, and works well in some darker moments where he confronts the ingrained homophobia of those around him, a nice balance to some genuinely funny moments he has earlier in the play.
While the centre of the action bounces from Helen and Adam’s central relationship, and as Helen’s insecurities manifest in a drinking problem while pregnant, it becomes clear religion isn’t the all-out saviour they claim it to be.
Meanwhile bouncy bubbly Flora is hiding a tragic secret about her health that has led her to seek something more. Clara Gibbs here gives an engaging and balanced performance, giving us the bouncy happy girl that Flora wants to be, but also delivering an honest performance of the grief she is hiding underneath.
Euan Kitson gives a magnetic and engaging performance as Dan, the person in the group who seems most lost for most of the play. He is given a questionable redemption at the end, a success that is immediately thrown into question by a revelation about the final mysterious character of Ginny (Betty Jane Walsh).
Silent for most of the play the audience wonders who the girl with Minnie Mouse ears and Disney Princess leggings might be. Is she the inner demons of the characters? The devil himself? Jesus? Someone else entirely? It’s clear she’s not quite a part of the room but also a part of all of those in it. The dark revelation about who she might be at the end gives another spin on Dan’s character, and Betty Jane Walsh throughout delivers a strong performance in a challenging role.
The piece is a times uneven, and elements a little underdeveloped. However, the writing is fresh and engaging and the young cast bring it to life with a believable honesty. Kate Wasserberg has presented a stripped back staging of the piece, giving the actors and writing centre stage. The flow of the piece, and the pacing of the actors movement on and off stage makes the most of the small space, and pulls the audiences into each moment effectively.
The wonderfully atmospheric and intense acapella musical numbers that intercut scenes serves to create an intense atmosphere fitting for the piece.
The young actors give excellent performances in what is a challenging piece. Wasserberg has done an excellent job in teasing out the important threads of what is a dense complex piece of writing and manages to balance some great humour and witty dialogue with the darker undertones of the play.