Tea for Tabitha

Thu 31st July – Tue 12th August 2014

reviews

Henry Holmes

at 09:35 on 3rd Aug 2014

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Performed underneath a pub far past the train station, Tea for Tabitha is new writing from New Zealand from Blanket Productions, starring James Stephen and writer Jodie Ellis in dual roles as brother and sister Henry and Blythe and their parents, in a study of family and love.

This minimalist casting is joined by the stark set design consisting of some simple furniture and childish scrawls of backgrounds, all serving to highlight the quality of the acting and the relationships between the two pairs of characters. Amanda Walden's direction taps into the subtleties of young children and a love that is interspersed by near constant bickering and fighting, actions which create a very different effect in the couple.

At first the sight of two grown actors portraying children is slightly unnerving, especially given the hirsute Stephen portraying a young, immature boy. However, you are drawn in via the brother-sister dynamic that is the strongest element of the play. The actors slide between their two characters effortlessly, which could create awkwardness as brother and sister segue into a lovers’ embrace, but this slip was overshadowed by the parallels it provided as we see children ‘playing grown-ups’ and then the clear influence of their parents’ somewhat unconventional romance.

While the courtship of the adult characters is slightly cliché, the kind of story found in many an airport paperback, the remainder of the performance deconstructs this, as we delve into the dysfunctional relations within the family that would be established post-credits. We see the breakdown and slow decline of love with a lack of sex that verges on the erotic through its absence. As we see the storyline through the perspective of the children, we know the veiled eroticism is there, but the wide-eyed innocence of the show prevails. The contrast of adult themes through children’s eyes, while being somewhat of a standard trope of family drama, is very well performed, and we see the fragility of childhood naivety. This is the main point of the piece that is hammered home whenever we transition into an adult section. We learn about happy endings, courtship and a little girl’s flawed idea of love.

Together, this show presents a timeless message of family and love that, while not the most ground-breaking of plots, comes across as very sincere, and the performance is very moving.

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Ellie Taylor

at 09:57 on 3rd Aug 2014

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Blanket Theatre brings us a play that explores the time old topics of family and childhood set against a backdrop of 1930s New Zealand. Thankfully, writer and actor Jodie Ellis finds a way to present these well-worn themes cleverly and originally. Jodie and partner James Stephen switch seamlessly and without warning between their dual roles of adult and child, and provide the audience with a novel way to examine the different worlds that they belong to.

It very difficult to play a child unburdened with adult thoughts and mannerisms, and Jodie and James are successful in achieving an air of childlike innocence and naivety. James’ portrayal of a young boy was loud, energetic and erratic as young boys are and left the audience laughing, while Jodie captured the role of the bossy older sister comically and familiarly. Tabitha is cleverly used within the play to show the audience the more complex feelings the children may be experiencing but are, naturally, unable to effectively articulate. In her relationship with Tabitha, Jodie captures well the close relationship a child can have with their favorite toy.

Unfortunately, although I could forget at times that we were watching an adult playing a child - for most of the performance I was not completely convinced. Jodie’s presentation of a girl trying to seem grown up could at times be confusing: it was unclear whether she intended to sound quite so adult in parts of her performance, while James had the opposite issue of being slightly too over the top at times. As adults, the actors were obviously more convincing, although it did take a minute to get used to the transition from siblings to lovers. It was not with the performance that I found issue with here, but with the fact that it did not take long to guess their identity, which I assume was not meant to become apparent until later on in the play. This did not hugely matter – it was still interesting to see how the child and adult story lines would come into contact, but the overall effect may have been more memorable had the revelation of their identity towards the end of the play been surprising.

I was disappointed to find Tea for Tabitha underwhelming. Despite the clever premise and interesting story line, I found that I was not as invested in what happened to the characters as I should have been. Overall, the performance was good, but it was not extraordinary.

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