London Theatre Review 2015
"Angela Clarke has achieved something truly amazing with achievement with The Legacy. As her a debut play she has mastered the fine art of storytelling with honest realistic characters and manages to deal with such a salient issue with grace, understanding and care."
THE LEGACY by Angela Clarke
This week The Hope Theatre is playing host to Angela Clarke’s debut play THE LEGACY that sees one family try to move towards their future whilst getting over their past. Family life in suburbia isn’t all picket fences and WI meeting but is, as is shown time and time again, a boiling pot of tension, unspoken issues and a blind willingness to ‘accept’ that everything is alright.
For Rebecca, Lucinda Westcar, and Adam, Jim Mannering, things are going fine. Rebecca is a stay at home mother of two children, Seb and Lilly, and seems to be content. As she sits in the waiting room with her husband, nervously wondering if Esther, Claira Watson Parr, is going to show up, she allows the snipes and digs from her husband to go over her head.
But ‘nothing brings people together better than a death’ and for the Harfield Sisters this just happens to be true. Reunited after over a decade of being apart Esther joins her sister and her husband in the waiting room ready to hear the reading of their late fathers will. The atmosphere is tense from the moment Esther joins Rebecca and Adam, and once the apparent pleasantries have been exchanged, some home-truths finally get brought to the surface.
Rebecca is someone who has become lost and sort of allowed what she has wanted in life to be put on the back burner for other people, but now finds herself ‘trapped’ in her suburbanite prison. Taking care of her father and now her husband and children she’s never really been able to break free from it all and do what she wants to do. This does, in some why, illustrate the tenseness in the relationship between Rebecca and Esther even if Rebecca doesn’t fully understand the reasons behind her sister's absence. The two sisters are presented like chalk and cheese, Esther has gone off and enjoyed life, been free and championed the cause of women’s rights, whereas Rebecca has stayed in their little village.
A tug of war between the sisters of what is spoken and what has been suppressed eventually comes out and almost pits the sisters against each other. Rebecca isn’t happy, and perhaps hasn’t been happy for some time but she doesn’t have the support she needs from her husband to figure out what she wants to do. Adam’s a brute towards his wife which is made worse by the fact that a lot of what he says and does to her is very subliminal but he too is under a great deal of pressure that he has decided to keep away from his wife.
"Rape continues to dominate the public discourse and there seems to be an unwillingness for organisations, police, political, educational and so forth to create a genuine zero tolerance attitude towards rape."
As playwright Angela Clarke starts to bring the unspoken past into the present lives of her characters something really unexpected happens and a whole new debate joins this age old one giving the audience great pause for thought. There has been, over the past couple of years, a wealth of discussions on the state of men’s mental health with suicide amongst men constantly increasing year after year. In Adam, a young guy in his mid-30s working in The City, she offers the audience a chance to see the burden that this young man is faced with.
It goes without saying that Adam’s attitude towards Ester’s sexual assault and his misogynistic attitude in general in the way he treats ‘his’ wife is inexcusable, but what Clarke does offer is an original role reversal that leads the audience into a new discussion. When Adam starts to share his daily experiences, his late-night emails and early starts, it is the nonchalant way he brings up one particular morning commute that powerfully takes a hold of you. Mannering brilliantly allows Adam to be vulnerable and angry but with a refusal to acknowledge just what has happened to him, something that has to be pointed out happens to millions of women on a daily basis.
This is subtly included and fleets past you much like everything else that this family has been suppressing and comes out as they continue to wait to be seen. One of the biggest issues we continue to face in our society, and one likely to go on for some time, is the rights and freedom of women. Rape continues to dominate the public discourse and there seems to be an unwillingness for organisations, police, political, educational and so forth to create a genuine zero tolerance attitude towards rape.
Only last month in the UK a student had to take her university to court because of their inadequate policy on how they deal with accusations of rape - needless to day the student lost her case. These stories are unfortunately not unique and continue to be part of our general discourse.
A three-header one-act production can be tricky and the pitfalls can sometimes outweigh the benefits of staging such a play but director Michael Beigel has worked well with his company never leaving anything out from Clarke's stunning text. The richness that Clarke has implanted in her character makes them instantly connectable to the audience and most importantly we understand the struggle that each of them has and are going through. The company have connected well to Clarke's characters with Westcar and Watson Parr portray two very different and challenging characters that are flawed but have an undermining strength that shows their pain and confusion in the most remarkable way. The trio works great together and maintains the tension created by the situation and by each of their characters stubbornness to initially break free from the confines of ‘the unspoken’.