Review: Sunnymead Court (Tristan Bates Theatre)

Gemma Lawrence’s new play premieres in London

Sunnymead Court
Sunnymead Court
© Lidia Crisafulli

Oh what a joy it is to be back experiencing new writing, in an Off-West End venue!

With audiences slashed down to 24 and a streaming option for those not wanting to be in-situ, though Sunnymead Court is hopefully less of a "new normal", it is definitely a bright example of how to make things work during adverse conditions.

The play in question, penned by Gemma Lawrence, is as fresh as they could come – a reflection on life during lockdown. When one protagonist – the sheltered, agoraphobic Marie, locks eyes with fellow lead neighbour Stella (who lives in an apartment opposite her balcony) it's "the first time [she] had looked in someone's eyes in months".

Both Marie and Stella are haunted by their pasts – Marie by perpetual teasing that she flashes back to regularly, while Stella by the domestic environment she finds herself in. Unable to make rent and moving back to her childhood home to care for her sick mother – "in three months I'm 15 again".

Lawrence's (the writer also plays Marie) script is peppered with these small moments of insight. Rather than some grandiose treaty on the nature of Covid and the government's policies, she chooses to focus on two unique, whimsical figures who form a connection while experiencing entirely unexpected conditions. The pair come to communicate through windowsill geraniums – Marie waters them daily, just to have an excuse to see Stella, (though doing little to help the unfortunate plants that perish from drowning). As they rediscover human connection, they also rediscover themselves – "body parts I thought had faded away", as Marie describes them: "I looked down and there's a leg, with a foot attached."

James Hillier's production is full of fun tidbits of theatrical innovation – having the two performers operate a sound and lighting desk on stage (designed by Max Pappenheim and Will Monks), while Gemma Lawrence's Marie (both performances, by the way, are top-notch) blogs to a camera fixed to a corner. In a time when, according to Marie "human touch does not sell…it is dirty, unsafe", a shining and creative novelty is a complete blessing. A fleet 45-minutes of wonderful creativity.

A final shout-out must go to the wonderful Tristan Bates team – diligent and helpful before the show and making the whole social distancing experience as slick as possible.