One Flea Spare was first performed fifteen years ago in London and it’s surprising how relevant the themes still are today. Mr and Mrs Snelgrave have been quarantined in their house during the Great Plague. Nearing their release date, two intruders (Bunce, a rough-around-the-edges sailor and Morse, a young girl orphaned by the disease), break into the house, which means that the quarantined period is extended.
As the audience take their seats they are introduced to an over-sized dress sitting in the middle of the stage. Although it’s a striking imag it was not needed as it wasn’t used again and didn’t add to the piece overall. What worked well was the intimate surroundings, as they added to the claustrophobic themes in this play. The characters are literally trapped in a birdcage structure and the tension is amplified and felt by the audience.
What stands out in this drama is the acting; the standard was exemplarily and each character drew you in to their stories. Victoria Bavister as the young girl plays her unhinged character with such depth that you believe that she is a 12-year-old girl who saw her family die in front of her.
What’s unfortunate about this play is the length: to expect the audience to be engaged with such intense themes for over two-and-a-half hours is quite an ask. The use of period costumes is a fine touch, but the use of a period inaccurate computer chair is a distraction. Also, the sporadic use of projection is not needed; it confuses the style of the piece.
However, the play itself keeps the momentum going with small scenes, and the direction has allowed for slick transitions which keeps the pace smooth. What’s interesting are the parallels you can make with the subject matter and contemporary society. The idea of the intruder invading your space, and how one feels the need to lock oneself away to protect their way of life, is something that we as a nation are experiencing every day.
I left the theatre feeling satisfied that I had seen a production which was well acted, well written and well directed. I also left the theatre feeling drained as there was a lot happening in such a small space for a long time. My advice is: drink some coffee beforehand.
One Flea Spare plays at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 16th April. For more information and to buy tickets, see the website here.