Colder Than Here (Salford)
David Cunningham finds this small play to be perfectly formed.
What a Little Bird Told Me is a new theatre company with an eye for plays that promote age groups and gender under-represented on stage. Whilst Laura Wade's Colder than Here might meet this criterion it is also a fine play in its own right.
Although the Brady family are hardly dysfunctional they do feature one daughter, Jenna, (Rachel Creamer, co-producer of the company with Annika Edge) who is possibly bulimic and is certainly a drama queen; another, Harriet (Laura Danielle Sharp) who is more stable but resents the attention given to her sister and a father, Alec (Leo Atkin), who doesn't do problems.
The family is shaken when terminally ill mother Myra (Joyce Branagh) decides to plan her own environmentally friendly funeral and goes so far as to make a powerpoint presentation on the subject.
The summary makes the play sound like a black comedy but director Alyx Tole, sensibly as it turns out, chooses to emphasise the family elements of the production and sets the atmosphere of a domestic drama with comic overtones. Tole draws in the audience using the adaptive Kings Arms Theatre to stage the play as theatre in the round. As well as ensuring an unusual level of intimacy this allows a striking, if disquieting, opening to Act Two.
A fine cast relishes the opportunity to allow their characters to develop as the play progresses. Rachel Creamer's self-obsessed Jenna does not so much mature as learn the pleasure of thinking about someone other than herself.
Sharp gives a powerful performance of a woman struggling to cope with emotions she never expected to experience and coming to terms with the realisation that the woman who has helped her in the past will be gone in the future.
Leo Atkin behaves as most of us probably would as Alec is out of his emotional depth and has to distract himself with practical tasks. Most powerful of all, however, is Brannagh's realistic approach showing Myra deteriorating from a woman stoically almost serenely contemplating her own demise to someone worn down by the horrifying physical pain and psychological fear becoming pinched and haunted as her disease threatens to take her dignity as well as her life.
Colder than Here is a very good production by a promising new theatre company.
Colder than Here is at the Kings Arms, Salford until 3 October.