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Still Spilling the Beans: Letters from East Ham Vicarage 1953-1956

Thursday, 26 August, 2010

Edinburgh 2010 – The Vault – 17-30 August – 11.30 (0.55)

Still Spilling the Beans is the third and last edition to a one woman trilogy.  Following in the footsteps of the first two shows – Spilling the Beans and Spilling More Beans – the piece makes its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

When Lisa Wright – writer and performer – moved from London to Connecticut as a teacher in 1953 her mother Margot wrote letters to her every day for 3 years.  It is from these letters which the show finds its life.  Fifty years on, and Lisa Wright has sifted through the hundreds of letters and pieced them together to create a dramatized reading of these rare glimpses from the past – a performance which aims to paint a quintessential picture of parish life in the East End of London back in the nineteen fifties.

The play is performed within the tiny space of The Vault theatre. On the stage was a cluttered kitchen table filled with bits of paper and two chairs just behind it.  Off to the left, an oddly placed music stand with a large fake potted plant at its base – a peculiar combination of set perhaps.  But before you could question it any further, a charming fairytale themed music began to play and out walked the tender, glowing face of a woman you could only wish was your Nan.

What ensued was fifty five minutes of a rambling story which never looked as if it were leading anywhere but which you couldn’t bring yourself to stop or interrupt for fear of appearing impolite.  Lisa Wright is clearly not a woman to be rushed as she calmly sauntered between the table and music stand – telling stories of train juries, vicars and suitable names to give a fish.  She would go into scrupulous detail of the angle of one’s hat or the fabric of a friend’s coat.

The pace of the show did add a lovely focus to several of the moments however. The understated composure in which she spoke proved impressively successful in the delivery of her jokes.  There was also a touching sincerity behind the story of how she took care of her mother as she slipped away.

It is understandable that the show may very well appeal to a small number of theatre goers above a certain age and with a particular background or upbringing.  Unfortunately for the undeniable majority of average audience members the show might come across as a vague, rather slow experience.  Nothing much happens during the hour long performance.  Nothing changes from start to finish.  No great discoveries are realized other than the occasional, unsurprising passing of a distant relative or neighbor.  You are left at the end of it with no authentic, emotional connection with any of the characters or even the show as a whole.

It might be a heartwarming experience for some – but for most, it will just be another long Sunday afternoon at your Nan’s.

Cast Credits:Lisa Wright.

Company Credits: Writer – Lisa Wright. Director – uncredited. Lighting Designer – uncredited. Sound Designer – uncredited. Technical Operator – uncredited. Company – Margot Rupert and Lisa Productions.

(c) Carl Livesay 2010

reviewed Friday 21 August 2010

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