Theatre Review: Tea and Two Sugars, 53two, Manchester
Making theatre is hard. Making good theatre is even harder.
The writing must be right. The acting must be right. The direction must be right. The design must be right. The lighting and sound must be right. The marketing must be right. And all this costs money and time. I know it’s not mining or fighting Isis, but in its own terms it’s hard. And worst of all, you don’t know if you’ve got it right till you open, at which point it’s too late to right any wrongs. So when two new graduates of Salford University write and produce their own show, act in it and get it on at a venue – and it’s good – I’m impressed.
Crystal Williams and Rachel Isbister have made a funny, good-looking, well-acted, socially engaged play, nicely directed by Chloe Beale, which I saw in a short run at Manchester’s 53two but could easily have a further life. Isbister plays Hannah, a 25-year-old singleton in a small flat which is invaded by her 14-year-old sister, Izzy, played by Williams. Isbister perfectly captures the loving resignation of the older sister to the invasion and Williams gives an entirely believable adolescent in the throes of growing up with terrific energy. Her performance would work beautifully in a bigger space, but in this tiny room she could pull back a little. Even so, she is very funny.
The design and technical staging do exactly what they need to, although as you enter the auditorium by walking across the stage it’s probably a good idea to go for a wee beforehand because the drama runs at 80 minutes without an interval and you can’t get out.
The publicity rightly makes a big thing of it so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I say it’s a play in which cervical cancer plays a major role. In particular, what do young women do who have not yet reached the age for regular screening but have symptoms they can’t explain? ‘Ignore it’ seems to be the common view, but in young people cancer moves fast and ignoring it can be fatal. Although it’s based on true events, life and art are not the same thing and, if I have a quibble, and of course I have a quibble, it’s that the plot has rather too simple an arc for an adult theatre-going audience.
The simplicity notwithstanding, I’m sure it would work brilliantly for adolescent girls, especially as it touches on other important taboos like what you do about your first period if your mother hasn’t told you. Boys could do with watching it, too. That means taking it into schools although I think the programme recommendation that it’s suitable for eight+ is too young.
I spent a lot of my professional life taking shows into schools and I would have been proud of this one. But doing that has become a lot harder because of curriculum and exam pressures, safeguarding and general lack of cash. I hope they’re able to find the funds because, like almost everything these days, it’s all about the money.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor
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