Silver Lining

Date 2nd December 2023
Society Bartholomew Players
Venue Eynsham Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Gareth Hammond and Denise Santilli
Producer Denise Santilli
Written By Sandi Toksvig

Report

Author: Andrew Walter

This was an ambitious undertaking for The Bartholomew Players, not so much because of the challenges of staging it, but because there isn’t much action to drive the narrative.  Set in the day room of a care home, the play examines the interactions within a group of older women as flood waters rise outside, and it becomes apparent that if they are to survive then they will have to save themselves.

The first act provides the dramatic context and introduces us to the principal characters.  With little happening beyond reports of flood waters rising and the arrival of a couple of unexpected visitors, the nuances in the writing assume even more significance than usual.  I felt that the company was, if anything, trying to make too much sense of the script, and that there were occasions when conversations might have been better interpreted as interwoven monologues, with ambiguous words and ideas providing points of contact.  Everything made better sense in the second act; with the flood waters now rising dangerously high, most of the characters has an uninterrupted monologue which helps us to understand their motivation and behaviours.  Most of the time there is only one narrative in the room, and the actors seemed much more comfortable making this sound authentic.  Critically, the sense of looming jeopardy meant that we started to care about what happened to them all, and it was poignant that this question was left unresolved.

Sandi Toksvig was clearly determined to use the context of the play to make a few points of significance to her.  The rights of same sex couples, tensions between generations and the role of older people in society, lazy racism (even, or maybe particularly, if unintended) and Brexit all got an airing.  Most of all, the play addressed assumptions about older people, that life in a care home isn’t just about sitting in front of “Cash in the attic”, that older people have hopes and regrets, just like the rest of us.

The wide, shallow stage in Eynsham Village Hall can be difficult to work with, but it proved well suited to the proportions of a care home day room, allowing for the conceit that the windows were between the audience and the stage.  The peach walls were well observed, and some of the detailing, from the Health and Safety notices and the activities noticeboard to the selection of artwork on the walls – I haven’t see one of those pin and thread pictures in a long while – was impressive.  The costumes really enhanced the characterisation, including May’s sensible trousers and blouse, June’s lurid leisurewear and Maureen’s bold fabrics; and fair play to Babs for rocking those leopard print leggings.

The Player’s Chairman announced before the show that “Silver Lining” had drawn The Bartholomew Players’ biggest audience ever – a fitting reward for their ambition in staging this play.  Many of its themes deserve more exposure, and Sandi Toksvig’s amusing but often challenging script held the audience rapt throughout.  And there were plenty of observations that we could all learn from: the ladies’ matter-of-factness about death, the recognition that we live in the loneliest country in Europe, the thought that life passes you by when you’re busy.  It was fantastic that the Players was able to recruit a cast of older women to reinforce one of the production’s central messages, that we shouldn’t underestimate what older people have to give, and what they are capable of.