The new production by Sheffield theatre company Third Angel, who’ve recently set up office in the headquarters of Sheffield Theatres, feels very much like a labour of love.
Originally a 30 minute play by Third Angel co-founder Rachael Walton entitled All About The Full Stops, Lives & Loves Of A Nobody describes the life of a ordinary, 36 year old woman called Rachel. We never meet Rachel (although we do hear her recorded voice at the start and end of the show), but we hear about her story from a pair of narrators (played by Walton and Nick Chambers). Rachel has lived a life like most others – some happy moments, some desperately sad moments – but she’s always wanted to be famous.
In itself, it’s not a particularly interesting story – which is the point. It’s the way that Walton, Chambers and co-director Alexander Kelly present it that really beguiles. Staged in traverse, it’s full of beautifully intimate moments that stick in the mind for long after the lights come up. The pace is breathless as well – at one point, Rachel bursts into a song of yearning, the next she’s a simple silhouette performing a monologue about multiple miscarriages.
Walton and Chambers are engaging hosts, often addressing the audience directly (and personally greeting people as they walk into the theatre), and taking on the roles of various different characters; it’s easy to become immersed in Rachel’s story, to root for her. Vignettes from Rachel’s childhood and the various unsuitable men she meets are wittily and poignantly presented and the set design is ingenious: a house made entirely of paper sheets, complete with windows though which the performers peep – it’s brilliantly constructed and quickly ripped down.
The only issue I had with the piece is that there’s almost too much going on in the space of the play’s short running time. So many ideas are touched upon – the longing for celebrity at any price, unfulfilled ambition, absent parents – but none of them are explored in any great depth. There are also moments that would test the most patient of audience members. A complex arrangement of suspended paper butterflies, which looks stunning when constructed, takes so long to assemble that it would be forgivable if some people had nodded off by the time it was completed.
The ending, when it comes, is deliberately ambiguous, intriguingly so, leaving you with much to ponder. It’s a delicate, low-key but rather beautiful piece Third Angel have made here, a gentle celebration of ordinary lives and the mundane, a piece with which it is incredibly easy to identify. Anyone could, after all, be a Rachel.