22 February 2013

Desolate Heaven at Theatre503

There are so many good small theatre in London (and the better theatres tend to be small, in my opinion at least) and there is so little time to go to them all that even when a new theatre impresses, like Theatre503 did last year, it can take me ridiculously long to get back there.

It would have been an even longer wait too if not for an email offer that alerted me to Desolate Heaven. The subject matter and review ratings suggested that it was worth a try, so I did.

The journey to darkest Battersea proved to be easy. I took a fast train to Clapham and rather than finish the journey by bus I walked the last kilometre or so through a couple of grassy parks.

I ate in the pub downstairs first, The Latchmere. That was more difficult that it should have been when the cheese and spinach burger I ordered arrived as a beef burger with a cheese and spinach topping. To be fair to the pub they swapped the burger for a veggie meal without a fuss. The beer was OK too and a couple of pints of Landlord were much appreciated.

I was one of the first in to the theatre and after a split-second's thought I took a seat in the front-row, as usual. The stage is slightly raised, to about knee height, so I was looking slightly up at the performers.

The stage was simply set with grey floor, a wall made from black planks and a chair as the sole prop.

We meet two schoolgirls on a beach. They are aged around 12 and 14, though played by women somewhat older than that, and they strike up a conversation. Through this we learn that they live close to each other and each looks after a parent.

The older girl is brash and confident as she talks about what she wants from life and the younger shier girl is swept along with this despite her initial reservations. Dreams become plans and they run away together.

They have several adventures on the road and are helped along the way by a series of women, all played by the same actress.

Each of these women tells them part of a fairly-tale at bedtime. It's a story based on Rumpelstiltskin but with a different ending.

The girls' lives bounce up and down between moments of girlish fun and times when they realise the bleakness of their situation.

Bringing the girls to life are two fine young actresses Carla Langley and Evelyn Lockley. They convince us that they are young school girls and, more importantly, make us care about what happens to them.

It's a play about growing up quickly in harsh circumstances, about the battle between hope and despair, the first false dawns of love and the difference between running away and running to. It is bleak and funny in equal measure and pulls other emotions along the way.

The oxymoronic Desolate Heaven lives up to its name as the girls are pulled between both extremes. In the middle is a lot of warmth, companionship, support and love. This positive mood makes the play very watchable despite the things that happen.

If every night at the theatre was as fulfilling as Desolate Heaven at Theatre503 then I would be very happy.

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