Something dark and sinister and deliciously funny is stirring in the Tara Studio. A fairy-tale world has been conjured by ‘Women & Theatre On Tour's latest production of The Bad One, written by and featuring Janice Connolly. The play opens with a filmed projection of a nightmare, full of barking dogs and bloody symbolism, with just a hint of pseudo-scientific ‘Hammer House of Horror' thrown in for good measure. Immediately we enter the rustic home of a belligerent, bombastic old woman, the Grandmother. Full of nooks and corners, stairs and hidden rooms, this home occupies the tiny space like a bucolic Tardis.
The Grandmother is ward to her granddaughter, Jackie, a goody-goody two-shoes who has never said “no” in her life. Jackie cooks and cleans with obsessive/compulsive gusto, her daily routine accompanied by the stroking and patting of objects as a means of controlling her unchanging world. Jackie is a rebel, though, secretly stitching her own pair of red shoes in an act both defiant and dangerous. Grandmother most definitely would not approve.
Into the fantastical world appears Laurence, a lad-about-town and general odd-job man, whose self-confidence with women is only matched by his all-out sleaziness. Ever ready with the knowing quip, Laurence lusts after the vulnerable Jackie. When the tables are eventually turned, this lust turns to fear and even loathing. This is definitely a man who needs to feel in control, his sense of self-worth as transitory as his machismo posturing.
There is a secret in this house, locked in one of its many rooms, a secret so horrible that, of course, Jackie has to uncover it. The secret revolves around one more member of the family, the aptly named Heidi. It is Heidi who personifies all that Jackie cannot, or is not allowed to, be. Heidi has sex and enjoys it, loves food and drink (all except beer) and basks in the glory of her karaoke skills. Heidi is the party-girl. Jackie can only gaze on with horror. The result, confrontation and a glorious resolution which is both moving and symbolic in equal measure.
Janice Connolly's Grandmother is a delight from the first moment she opens her cider-sodden throat. Connolly has written every fairytale cliché in the Brothers Grimm book into her play, adding glorious touches of contemporary irony and immediacy. Like the distant memories of childhood, the preaching polemic of so many of these tales is thrown into stark relief as Grandmother manipulates and cajoles Jackie into obedient surrender.
Susie Riddell is likewise superb as Jackie, all wide- and sorrowful-eyed innocence. Riddell's transformation into the sexually-adventurous vixen is a joy, as are those moments of comedy when Jackie eventually rebels against her strange upbringing by donning lashings of lipstick and ankle-cracking heels.
Laurence Saunders as the carpenter Laurence is a wonderful foil both to Connolly and Riddell. Saunders plays a man whose every word and every move is outrageously cringe-worthy. Heather Pilkington, whose Heidi is as wild and bawdy as Jackie is demure and innocent, is a comic genius. Pilkington's indescribably graphic display of sexual gratification is a highlight of this very funny, very moving production.
Under Terina Talbot's direction, the cast of The Bad One explore issues of identity which are far deeper than their surface treatment might at first suggest. Its message of freedom, both to explore one's own sexuality and to make one's own mistakes, is universal in its appeal. This is a play with a serious edge packaged with great humour and panache. Its irreverent take on those nursery tales of old, its overtly sexual banter and interplay, and its excellent cast of actors make for a memorable evening which is, first and foremost, pure entertainment. Like a strong cup of tea with five sugars, The Bad One goes down a treat.
Kevin Quarmby © 2008
Jackie: Susie Riddell
Grandmother: Janice Connolly
Laurence: Laurence Saunders
Heidi: Heather Pilkington
Writer: Janice Connolly
Director: Terina Talbot
Production Designer: Frances Rice
Original Set & Costumes: (2004) Helen Davies
Composition & Sound Design : Michael Aduwali
Projection Designer: Chris Cuthbert
Technical stage Manager: Penny Gaize
Set Construction: Andy Martin, Frances Rice & Penny Gaize
Costume Maker: Kay Wilton
Scenic Artist: Claire White Emma Thompson, assisted by Stephen Burke
Script Research: Alison Carney & Janice Connolly
Magical Consultant: Robert Ormester
Vocals: Jill Norman
Dramaturgy: Script Development: Theresa Heskins (Original Production-2004)
Jill Norman & Alison Carney (2008 Production)
Direction assistance: Gwenda Hughes (2004) Jill Norman (2008)
Producer: Ruth Richardson
Asst Producers: Hannah Brewer & Margaret Anderson
Marketing: Kat Bailey & SJ Watkinson
PR Consultant: Kim Morgan PR
Publicity Design: Blind Mice Design
Publicity model/Ruby Red: Lydia Burke
Women & Theatre, The Friends Institute, 220 Moseley Road, Birmingham, B12 0DG.
Tel: 0121 440 4203 Fax: 0121 446 4280 Email: email@example.com
Wed 29th Oct- Fri 31st Oct at 7.30pm
TARA Studio , 356 Garratt Lane, London SW18 4ES
020 8333 4457
6th Nov at 8pm
The Rondo Theatre, St Saviours Rd, Larkhill, Bath BA1 6RT
01225 463 362
7th Nov at 8pm
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays M50 3AZ
0870 787 5790
Sat 8th Nov at 7.30pm
Helmsley Arts Centre, The Old Meeting House, Helmsley, York YO62 5DW
01439 771 700