2016 has been a decidedly strange year so far, with famous deaths, terrorism, Brexit and even the possibility of a President Trump. So wouldn’t it be nice to step back in time, sit down with a box of sweets and hear a story from your grandmother? Beam gives audiences in Sheffield a chance to do just that.
Ever since Theatre Delicatessen took over the old disused Woolworths building in Sheffield and transformed into a vibrant hub for local community art and theatre, they’ve provided a natural home to productions like Beam – a funny, touching monologue from a grandmother looking back on her life and telling the audience about her first love.
The grandmother in question is played by Lucy Haighton – at least fifty years younger than her character, but in her slow, deliberate movements and mannerisms, it’s easy to believe you’re watching a real-life granny. There’s an immersive quality to Beam as Haighton sits in the audience (seated in traverse fashion), chats to individuals and hands out Jelly Babies as she begins to tell her tale.
Heather Morgan’s script describes our nameless granny’s journey to Canada over 50 years ago to meet up with her future husband. It’s full of memorable turns of phrase and wry observations. There’s something innately sad hearing about how the dancehall where the couple first met, “is a Sainsbury’s now…I always think of that dance when I’m buying my milk,” or that the church where they wed, “is a Pizza Express now”. Beam brings home exactly how the steady march of progress can impact upon people’s memories and lives.
The monologue is interspersed with ‘flashbacks’ to Granny’s younger self, told through dance or mime, and it’s here that Haighton’s background as a dance artist and physical performer really comes into its own – whether she’s portraying the boredom of a transatlantic boat journey or the anticipation of seeing her love, her movements are always impressively graceful. There are a couple of audacious directorial tricks thrown in by Morgan too, such as suddenly switching off the house lights and asking the audience to shine their phone lights onto the stage to create a more intimate atmosphere.
It helps too that Granny is a character that you can’t help but fall in love with, whether she’s handing out mittens to keep everyone’s hands warm, clutching a bunch of lavender or mispronouncing wi-fi as ‘wiffy’. She’s a character that is sentimental by necessity but never mawkish, and never one that drops into a stereotype – this is a grandmother to laugh with, but never at.
In the best possible way, it feels like a throwback to a more simple time (just hearing how Granny tries to describe Tinder is worth the price of admission alone) and at just an hour long, the only complaint would be that it seems to be over before it’s begun, despite the play’s deliberately slow pace. Beam is possibly the very definition of a small-scale production, but this particular grandmother deserves to tell her story to as wide an audience as possible.
Beam is on until 24th September 2016 at the Moor Theatre Delicatessen in Sheffield. Click here for more details.