Branded as snapshots of life behind closed doors, Shutters comprises three short American plays which focus on the journey of women from the beginning of the century until the present day.
The first, Cast of Characters by playwright Philip Dawkins, is most relevant as it tells the story of a complicated family through ‘snapshot’ descriptions of each family member. With a set of boxes, giving the feel of a rehearsal space, the play is a recitation of the character list of a hypothetical play called Three and a Half Sisters.
Each of family members – the sisters Liz, Marie and Vicky, their mother Bernice and the so-called ‘half-sister’ brother Frank – has a section to explore the history and complications of their character. They are frequently interrupted by a voice over giving production notes, which is slightly frustrating as it disengages us from the action.
Many of the all-female cast have several roles to play and use only their voice and movement to differentiate. This is mostly smooth although nerves seem to get the better of the cast on occasion. The chaotic opener is the weakest of the three short plays.
In contrast, Trifles gets its dramatic intensity from its stillness and what’s not said. The sheriff, played by Beverly Longhurst, and the country attorney, Lucia McAnespie, are investigating a shabby house where a husband has been mysteriously strangled in his sleep. They have enlisted the help of the woman who lives next door called Mrs Hale (Joanna Kirkland), and the sheriff’s wife (Nicola Blackman).
While the ‘men’ clinically look at the facts and patronise the women’s petty concerns, their empathy for the wife of the house leads the women to discover a key piece of evidence. The spectral presence of Mrs Wright, Yolanda Kettle, is a clever touch as she adds tension by standing completely still in the background.
This play was written in 1916 and while it may have aged in some of the detail, almost 100 years on it brings chills to the spine.
The Deer is completely different again and like the classic short story formula comes with a shock twist at the end. This production tells the story of a lost 20-something and her relationship with her troubled brother. Working back from a collision between the deer and Clara, her life unfolds through short flashbacks and the sense of time collapses with clever use of movement and stage direction.
Directed by former ballet dancer Jack Thorpe Baker, movement plays a strong part in each of the plays and the space is taken into consideration at all times. This stripped back production in the studio setting gives the actors an excellent opportunity to flex their skills in complex roles.
Shutters provides an hour and a half that may not challenge the role of women in America now, but certainly offers an enjoyable show of acting and directorial skill.