In Ellen: Her Triumphant Women, Cambridge Devised Theatre attempt to tell the life story of one of the stage's most celebrated actresses through the Shakespearian roles she played.
About to go on stage to deliver a lecture on roles such as Lady Macbeth, Portia and Beatrice, Ellen Terry is joined by Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the two of them re-enact scenes from Terry's life and career. It's an interesting concept, but interesting concepts do not necessarily make interesting plays.
The play hops about through Terry's biography as snippets of Shakespeare are used to highlight particular trauma or heartache. Unfortunately this can feel a bit contrived at points and playwright Ros Connelly continually uses the premise of a lecture as a crutch which hampers the drama. At times Kath Burlinson's direction simply isn't tight enough and the actors aren't snappy enough with their movements to make the comedy witty, although the pace in general is timely.
As Ellen Terry, Helen Cartwright has some big shoes to fill. She gives a fair performance, but the moments when she is larking and joking with Puck feel forced and over the top. She's much better when it comes to portraying sorrow and she certainly has a good stab at the Shakespearean monologues.
Alan Mooney's Puck has an air of insanity about him, spitting, grimacing and scratching his way through the action. As the naughty sprite he has a faint whiff of cruelty in his facial expressions and it would be very interesting to see him take on the role in a fully-staged production of The Dream. However, together Cartwright and Mooney lack the fizzy chemistry that could have pushed this play forward and instead it can feel a bit skittish.
Although there are some engaging moments, on the whole the play feels unpolished. Audience members with a particular interest in Ellen Terry may enjoy this brief history lesson, but as a piece of drama it misses its cue.
- Roz Carter