How should you deal with death? Pamela Carter and her play What We Know was a surprising little treat at our Royal Welsh, with fine acting and well though out script. We see everything appears well with Jo and Lucy making dinner, with talk of cooking, life and their relationship. Only things go off kilter when Jo disappears and a teenage girl hurtles out of their refrigerator…
This is where we begin to judge Lucy, not been able to deal with death of Jo, who has only been in her mind within the opener of the play. Only now she has a dinner party with a random selection of friends. Its takes the Teenager character for us to begin in grasp just what is going on between reality and another person’s perception. We bid farewell to the odd teenage girl, as we then meet her guests to the party. We discover insights about death from each of the guests who each seem to want Lucy to deal with her demons, though each in their own way.
Carter has written a marvellous show here. There is much to digest in this piece as each scene with new characters, adds more layers to ever-increasing enjoyment. The set by Jin Noh is a simple kitchen set up (with real food cooking), surrounded by flurries of paper flowers, seen at the entrance to the space, crammed within a beam and hanged above the dining table. I’ll assume the flowers represent hope from Lucy? Sound design by Nathan Williams is quiet and moody, at times as if there at all. Direction by Debbie Hannan helps this brief play blossom into a well oiled machine, with some nice surprises along the way.
The most praise has to go to the actors, the play belonging very much to Lucy, here played by Abbie Hern. In a considered performance, Hern makes a sympathetic soul out of Lucy, who is not really functioning in her grief, let alone in making a dinner party. Paul Brown is Jo, a sort of vision by Lucy, who appears to love her and goes into deep conversations with her. It’s a brief role, though it does break us into the show, giving us a better understanding of what was their relationship. The Teenager here is taken on by Lilly Tukur, a strange and amusing mix of Ellen Page, amongst other actresses. Tukur makes a lot out of this causal character, the monologue about seeing a dead body in a pond lingered in the mind for a long time, as we questioned it’s relationship to Lucy’s own horrors.
Alex Wanebo played Helen, a woman involved with the paramedics who approached Jo in his hour of need. This is a super portrayal of a flaky character, who has a lot of heart and is pleasant all round. Cal is another guest, played by the adorable Gabriel Scott, who is the kind-hearted and delightful friend of Lucy’s from days at uni. Stealing the show was Lucy Reynolds with Charlie, the lesbian neighbour, with highly varying views on how to deal with grief, contrasting drastically with the other guests and their own thoughts. The part feel like something out of Alan Bennett and is played off for laughs, yet Reynolds makes the role her own with silly glasses, stiff mannerisms and the most deliciously barbed remarks and comebacks. Many a laugh was had with this character and Reynolds appears to have a blast with it. Just the sort of no-nonsense authority figure that needs to drill into Lucy a healthy dose of reality.
The themes that lie with this play have much to say about bereavement, delivered in a fresh new theatrical style.
I can declare that What We Knows has become the surprise hit of the season.
Royal Welsh College continues with New 2019, with performances of Turbines, Kasimir & Karoline, Loam & Between Eternity and Time from 19th to the 21st March 2019. Also on tour to the Gate Theatre, London.