Ashes to Ashes

Tue 17th – Sat 21st May 2016


Clare Cavenagh

at 10:34 on 18th May 2016



This very quiet and reflective production of Pinter's Ashes to Ashes opened with a nearly empty playroom last night - a shame for a production which was unafraid to leave silences and embraced the ambiguity of its script. Although some line delivery was at times a little uncertain, and the production as a whole could perhaps have been a little more dynamic and have moved a little quicker, Ashes to Ashes was thought provoking and intriguing.

This play features only two characters, and only one scene. Rebecca (Beatriz Santos) begins to recount a tale of a previous lost (and highly ambiguous) love to her current husband Devlin (Kathryn Cussons). The tale, apparently new to Devlin, prompts questions about when exactly this affair took place, whether it preceded or ran concurrently with the present relationship. Over time, another layer of troubling darkness is added when it becomes slowly apparent that this lover may have been a perpetrator in some very dark historical events, and that Rebecca herself may have been a victim.

In this performance however, the tale became more complex through the casting of female Cussons as Devlin. This decision could simply have been an instance of gender-blind assigning of roles, but appeared very strongly to be something else. Opening questions were delivered with Cussons standing behind Santos, and throughout the performance eye contact between the two actors was extremely rare, and when it did occur, extremely fleeting. This distance compounded the dialogue gaps already present in Pinter's play, moments where Rebecca's answers seem to misinterpret, ignore, or not even notice Devlin's questions. Intriguingly, Cussons's Devlin seemed like a kind of ghostly presence. It was difficult to be sure if he was really there at all.

The highly pensive mood of this play was intriguing and refreshing, and a very brave decision on the part of director Joe Richards. It takes a lot of confidence in both script and actors to allow long pauses to stretch out when only slight shifting in chairs, flickering of eyes, tensing of muscles happens. Often, this was very effective, heightening the sense that Rebecca was hardly aware of, and not particularly interested in, Devlin's questioning, deeply lost in her own remembering. Some pauses did drag a little however, and the sheer number of them at times seemed excessive. Although I highly enjoyed the minimalism of this production, and the brave decision to embrace quietness and avoid over-dramatisation, it did feel at times as though this effect had been taken too far. Equally, the decision to have fiercely contemporary radio broadcasts dividing the scene made interpretation of the final twist of this script a little difficult. The historical events alluded to mean that it would be virtually impossible for the characters to be living now, and to be the age they appeared.

It was a shame that Ashes to Ashes had such a small audience on opening night, and I hope that many more will go to see this play. Although it has its oddities and imperfections, the effect of watching it is like seeing a poem happen onstage. It is immersive and connotative, and the slow speed of the production is both a unique experience in the theatre, and a good way to allow these effects to do their work on the audience. Although not unanimously successful, Ashes to Ashes is unusual and thought provoking, and well worth a watch.


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