Whilst people are generally familiar with – and indeed love to trace – their family trees, there’s a growing interest in working out the genealogy of one’s home too. I spent most of the first twenty-six years of my life living in a pub that was estimated to have been built in 1535. We had a priest’s hole, and a ghost; buy me a pint one day and I’ll tell you all about what George the Ghost did for us.
But that’s for another occasion. Battered Lemon Theatre Company’s 42 Church Lane does exactly what it says on the tin; it gives you an insight into three periods of that property’s history – 1941, 2016 and 2027 (which, I know, isn’t exactly history, but you get my drift). Arthur comes home from the war early, injured, to the delight of his mother and sisters, although his little nephew Frank didn’t survive the Blitz. Megan and Jamie have just moved into their first place together, but already cracks in their relationship are beginning to show. Doctor Mia has taken advantage of the new privatised NHS to set up her own clinic at No 42, inoculating all and sundry with the MMR vaccine – and business has never been so brisk. But there are secrets, at every stage and in every age, and it would be best if they were never discovered.
Not only is this terrific play beautifully written, but its construction is superb, with the way that its various scenes dovetail one another through the decades. One minute Megan and Jamie will be arguing only suddenly to become mother and daughter in the 40s. Another time wounded soldier Arthur will be teasing with his sister and then she becomes Dr Mia and he’s her journalist friend Alex. This might sound confusing, but with lighting cues and costume changes it’s all as clear as a bell. There’s even a scene towards the end where the words of 1941 become the words of 2016, as though you can actually hear the ghosts of the past haunting the present.
The excellent cast work hard to emphasise all the drama and tension of the plot. There’s a harrowing scene where one of the characters self-harms, and another when the horrors of war bring on an PTSD attack (surprisingly neither was mentioned in the trigger warnings). Books get ripped up, records get smashed and there’s a highly effective knock-at-the-door suspense (reminded me of the Porter in Macbeth) that affects two decades at the same time. The three scenes, where the abuse of trust that has been building is most noticeably revealed, from all three eras, are all performed with gripping tension and agonising sadness.
The performances are excellent throughout. Amy Catherine excels as the hard-nosed pharmaceutical physician Mia, tentatively wondering whether there’s a future in the on-off friendship with Alex, whilst working nineteen to the dozen getting all the vaccinations done, and with her bedside manner slipping drastically under pressure. Samuel Jordan gives a fine performance as the cautious Alex and as the lame Arthur, thrilled to be home in the bosom of his family, no matter what it took to get there.
De-Anna Matthews cuts an essentially tragic figure as the out of place Ruth, mourning her child, being replaced at work, torn between family loyalty and a need to take some kind of revenge for Frank’s death. Erin Thorpe is excellent as the mother and the mentally abused Jamie, pathetically caving into Megan’s demands; and, perhaps with the stand-out performance, Shannon Couchman makes a devastatingly terrifying Megan, who switches from manipulative control freak to being a severely vulnerable victim herself, and also as the baby of the family Lily, curled up on the floor to listen to stories or playing hysterically with her cuddly toys.
Terrific performances, and a beautifully devised play. Congratulations all on a great job!
P. S. The Saffron Restaurant sells Indian, not Chinese food. #JustSaying!