This trip to Sunnymead Court is my first trip back to an indoor performance with other audience members. There is chatter from all angles and I’m excited to be in a dark room surrounded by people with the same interests as me, all watching the same live performance. It’s the simple things.
Sunnymead Court is directed by James Hillier and presented by Defibrillator, in association with The Actors Centre.
Marie (Gemma Lawrence – who also wrote the piece) and Stella (Remmie Milner) live at Sunnymead Court in opposite tower blocks. Marie has a set routine on her balcony: eggs at 8am, blasting music at 11am, and her late night coffee at 10pm. Stella looks after her mum who is often on a ventilator, and tends to her mum’s vibrant red geraniums on the balcony – beautiful things for her mother’s increasingly small world.
A chance encounter during a hail storm, where they dance in the rain – a beautiful scene – brings these women together from afar. Stella, who used to get up when her body wanted to, now sets her alarm for 7.45am to witness Marie’s set routine. Marie gets some red geraniums, a message that will show her interest in Stella, she hopes. Realistically all that gets noticed is that Marie overwaters these poor flowers until they die. (Not quite the signal that Marie wanted to give out.)
A power outage brings these women together as Marie, in an act of heroism, leaves her house! Hear me out. Stella’s mum is on a ventilator and she knows that this outage could cause severe problems, she runs down to see if she can help. Ultimately there is not much she can do, but this act of kindness impresses both Stella and her mother. Marie is an introverted person, much more at home with the online world than the real one.
I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, this production is warming and needs to be seen oneself. However, this is a queer romance that is beautifully and sensitively portrayed. This piece is not self-conscious in its depiction of queerness – this is a queer love story, but that is not the main point of it. This is truly a breath of fresh air in a world of theatre filled with inauthentic representation and stories telling of queerness that become fixated on that singular aspect, rather than the nuanced lives of queer people.
There are many things I love about this production: The box on the stage that provides effects from a dog barking sound to a glitching computer screen, and the camera which films Marie using her computer, her main confidant. The set and story are simple, but these highlight the emotional reactions and thoughts of these women navigating a socially distanced setting of romance. Is this story a little cliché? Yes. Does it matter? Not one bit – this is a light-hearted story that has heart and truth. I know that I’m not the only one who leaves smiling.
Sunnymead Court is playing at the Actors Centre until 3 October. For more information and tickets, see the Actors Centre website.