Faced with a one-hander it’s easy to feel a sense of trepidation - can a 90-minute monologue really keep you on the edge of your seat, mesmerised throughout? Douglas Maxwell’s Promises Promises does just that, and 90 minutes feels like nothing as Joanna Tope’s well-paced performance builds to the play's surprising final twist.
Maggie Brodie, a twice retired teacher, is asked to cover a short term supply teaching position at her local primary school. Here she meets Rosie, six, who is new, from Somalia and an elective mute. Community leaders have been brought in to the class, believing that Rosie’s silence is caused by devils and Maggie, feeling an intense connection with Rosie, must take action to protect her.
This is not an easy play. It deals with multiculturalism in education and asks how far is too far but instead of being a soapbox drama it is a real life struggle. It moves beyond socio-political problems and digs deeper, asking about the past and how it affects our present - the demons which silence us or force us to act.
Douglas Maxwell’s writing varies from gentle humour to real anger and heartbreak while Joanna Tope owns the text, bringing to life the humour, sexuality, pride, anguish and bitter memories of Maggie. Her wonderfully measured performance, skilfully directed by Johnny McKnight, is given added depth and weight by the effective use of lighting and video (David Shea and Tim Reid respectively) while Lisa Sangster's set is clean, effortlessly creating a classroom, cloakroom and bathroom through its clever use of revolving panels.
This play is unsettling - it doesn’t try and make things right or answer the questions it raises. Rather, it ends in silence and the haunting music composed by Karen Maclver is all that you are left with as the lights go down.