Written By: Barbara Sherlock
Date: September 10 2018
Location: Unity Theatre, Liverpool
Meek, written by Penelope Skinner and presented by Headlong Productions (in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre), was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. The stark, dark set designed by Max Jones is minimalist and classy, which also sums up this play and lasting just over one hour.
A large white simple sign of the cross glares out of a concrete wall. There is time for the audience to take in the moody atmosphere before going to dark. The momentary complete blackness features throughout the piece to mark the frequent short scene/costume changes before spotlights mute or dazzle the characters in this all-female three-hander. Never has lighting (designed by Zoe Spurr) been used more effectively or efficiently to tell a story. Sound and composition (Melanie Wilson) feature as the background noise throughout, from an ominous hum to a faint squawk of a sea bird, sublimely creating mood and place. This could be an art installation.
So, what’s the story? Meek is a tale of love, betrayal and oppression in a bleak future following a bloody ‘Refamation’, where women are oppressed by men and married for their dowries, social position and procreation. This is all under the auspices of The Disciples, who enforce the New Testament of the Bible: The meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5.5) with rigorous Christian fervour and Old Testament punishment. You can’t help but draw similarities to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the theme is sadly becoming mainstream and has lost its ability to shock.
That aside, Shvorne Marks gives an intense performance as Irene, a thirty-year old unmarried woman (no dowry) who falls foul of the regime with her coffee-shop performance of a love song, anonymously reported to be anti-establishment. Far from meek, Irene is incarcerated in jail awaiting her fate and questioning her once-devout Christian beliefs. The white cross has gone dark. Anna (Scarlett Brookes), her dowdy, outwardly frail and married best friend, is her only visitor and believes prayer and recantation to be the only answer. Brookes portrays the role with consistency and is an eerie presence in her simple shroud-like clothing.
Season changes are effectively indicated by simple costume additions, as Irene’s defence is prepared by the Secularist solicitor Gudrun (Amanda Wright). Wright is confident in the role, barely changing her facial expression as she exudes inner strength and determination. It is through Gudrun’s interaction with Irene that the truth is revealed, but can the sometimes-sinister, politically-motivated Gudrun’s advice be trusted as Irene’s song goes viral on Youtube, earning her accidental worldwide success as a symbol of resistance?
Marks is the most animated of the three performers as she faces a series of dilemmas, but all three actors play off each other seamlessly and Brookes holds her own, particularly in scenes where they realistically talk over each other. Director Amy Hodge sets a fast pace in this Greek-style tragedy where neither men or women come out blameless.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good