Frontier Theatre Productions, founded by James Roose-Evans, is a theatre company that creates theatre for the older generation, otherwise known as the Third Age. The theatre they make is incredibly important, as it provides artistic opportunities for actors, directors, writers and designers whose high expertise and merit is brushed aside at times by a generally ageist industry. This company, I would argue, is especially important for women, whose age combined with gender can often exclude them in spite of their boundless talent. This discrimination is their loss, however, and Frontier’s gain. In their two short plays Spring and The Last Dance, the company members’ years of experience are evident.
Spring is the first of the two. Both plays are performed on a small raised stage in a grand room. The audience sits close to the stage, creating an intimacy that enables you to better empathise with the characters as you fully witness their reactions. This grants the actors even more power in their performances.
My one criticism of Spring, by Susan Hill, is that I’m unsure whether the play itself really promotes this idea of putting older actors centre stage. A two hander, the play is about a young woman (Portia van der Braam), seemingly stuck at a crossroads in life, talking about it to an older woman (Sally Faulkner). Sat on a bench by the seaside, they meet regularly. I only say that this play might not represent Frontier’s outlook as it is essentially a monologue for the young woman. Regardless, it is a lovely, and wonderfully performed play. Van der Braam is sweet and funny as the young woman – while only she speaks, every word she speaks with conviction and a deep rooted emotion. I held onto her every word, and in her more desperate moments, I just wanted to help.
What helps the girl is the cathartic silence of the older woman. Though Faulkner doesn’t speak, you see it all in her eyes – her sympathy, love and cherishment of her younger companion. Smiling at the young woman’s jokes, welling up at her anguish, holding her hand when she needs it – they share a heart-warming camaraderie. Faulkner’s ability to convey so much with no words demonstrates that she is a highly experienced and fantastic actress. Such a skill is no easy feat, and it elevates the play.
The lighting (Jai Marjoria) and sound (Christopher Galler) continues this elevation. The gradual changing colour of lights creates a soothing atmosphere, complemented by the sounds of the seaside which transport you from a minimalist stage to a bench on the seafront.
The Last Dance, by Mitch Hooper, focusses on Peter (David Mallinson) and Suzanne (Sally Faulkner), a retired married couple. Trying to remember the name of a famous actor who has recently died, Suzanne and David come to reflect on their past – previous infidelities, the ailments of old age, the question of love, and mortality. Their thoughts and fears are universal; they aren’t only applicable to the older generations – they transcend age groups, which is what ultimately makes it such an honest piece. Mallinson and Faulker deliver tender and genuine performances, accompanied by excellent husband-and-wife chemistry. Throughout the piece, Mallinson and Faulker are given asides where they discuss their innermost thoughts. As an audience member you really invest in their emotions, once again signposting that these are two actors who are real experts in the field of their performance. A thoughtful and truthful piece – Mallinson and Faulker bring to life everyone’s deepest reflections on love, marriage and death. Simply brilliant.
Spring and The Last Dance are playing The Theatre Room until November 5.
Photo: Gavin Watson