Between the garbage dump and the outskirts of some Canadian town, there’s not much going for Sugar Ducharme (Sinead Matthews), who has spent the last ten years housebound. Prone to fainting at the everyday situation, Sugar’s inability to be herself has her living in the tracksuit of her deceased mother, a bright eighties affair with a colourful puffer jacket that sickens the eyes. Then there’s Sugar’s sister Grace (Vinette Robinson), who pops back soda as if it’s going out of fashion, who everyone calls ‘the lion’, but apart from being a sexualised looker is only good to put the bacon on the table. The two sisters have spent the last ten years living with a curse, where upon their birthday a woman of the same age is found dead by Grace. Whether these women are meant to represent their sister who died during birth, or just the women that they desperately want to be, is unknown – but each year it’s the same. Until Trout Stanley (Dylan Smith) stumbles into their life.
Claudia Dey’s Trout Stanley has won numerous accolades in Canada: hailed as “one of the best Canadian plays of the last decade” by The National Post, you’ve got to admit it’s got balls. As a play it titters between absurd comedy and dark surrealism, where characters seem more like shells of humans living in a vacuum than living and breathing identities. There’s a distinct quality of the absurd, but it’s gentle, aided by Matt Steinberg’s tight direction. If anything, Trout Stanley leaves you feeling bemused. There are questions raised somewhere beneath Dey’s writing that I just can’t place a finger on, as if the entire grounding of the play is shifting sands beneath our feet; it’s difficult to stay still long enough to contemplate what we’re seeing.
Tackling this challenging play are three superb actors. Matthews, continually showing she’s a versatile actor, is a joy in the ditzy character of Sugar, whilst Robinson’s Grace is seductive but firmly rooted. Together this dynamic duo bat dialogue between them like they’re in the Wimbledon final: fast, aggressive, but playful in form. As the bizarrely fish-named Trout, Smith is particularly strong, completing the cast.
As a whole it’s difficult to know what to make of Trout Stanley. The absurdism catches you like a trip along the pavement: it offsets your balance and you never quite recover. Steinberg’s direction is funny but also endearing, pulling out the tender moments within Dey’s dialogue. There’s a particularly striking moment when Sugar compares her life to standing by a lone tree waiting for it to be struck with lighting. Comedy meanwhile is lashed out like shots at a party, messy but delicious, and even if I left feeling more bemused than amused, Dey’s Trout Stanley scratches unknown itches within the human psyche, and for that I’m curious. Superbly acted, but ultimately a bemusing piece of writing, I’m sure some would find it profound – but for me, I’ll stick with a slight turn of the head and a question mark: what does it all mean?
Trout Stanley is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 December. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website. Photo by Helen Murray.