What is it that defines where you’re from? The geographical location of the house you grew up in, or is it the people inside that property, who helped to shape your values and shared your dreams for the future or stamped on them because they differed from their own? And wherever you go, can you ever escape this place and truly start again? These are the questions raised by Glenn Waldron’s debut play, a thoughtful comedy-drama that tests the tension between the tug of the past and the pull of new beginnings with subtlety and wit.
Set in a terraced house in the playwright’s hometown of Plymouth, the play could as well be called ‘universal house’, since its themes apply to everyone, wherever we call ‘home’. The three acts span 13 years, during which three couples negotiate fresh starts within the same space. And just as the same is different through time, so their interpretation and appreciation of that space is tempered by what’s gone before; to some extent, the piece plays on the belief that a building holds onto certain events that take place within its walls (a notion promoted by only one of the characters, however), but ultimately its interest lies in the investment individuals make in events and their repercussions.
In 1999, self-conscious teen Richard is keen to escape to art college in London, in the hope of finding somewhere more accepting of his artistic nature. Graham is older, still unpacking after moving to the city for his job. Both are finding their feet, and they seek common ground in art, music and photography. As the spark for the narrative arc, this scene plays with both the notion of new beginnings as defined by the personal rather than the geographical, as well as a growing sense of unease that creates the dramatic tension that drives the rest of the play. Tom Peters imbues potential mentor Graham with a queasy lick of the lecher, sidling up to Dylan Kennedy’s asthmatic naïf to encourage his interest in the arts by poring over the pages of a book about Robert Mapplethorpe. A spray of spilled red wine seems to suggest more than simply a stained carpet.
In 2005, local estate agent Becci (an excellently upfront Becci Gemmell) is showing former school friend and returnee Laura around the same house; both pregnant, Becci looks forward to sharing new motherhood and nights of retro clubbing with her ‘oldest friend’, while Laura is adamant that she’s ‘not moving back’, per se, simply choosing to relocate with her husband’s job, and is firm about her wishes not to reconnect. As the only couple with a previous relationship, Laura and Becci provide the strongest section of the play, their interaction exploring not just the notion of how to work with a shared history but how a community’s shared knowledge about a particular building affects its story. And also, through Leah Whitaker’s contained, brittle Laura – reciting Farrow & Ball paint colours while fielding Becci’s assumptions of renewed friendship – a wry look at our national obsession with property. For Laura, it’s about being able to afford the sort of house she thinks she should be living in by now, regardless of what happened here or where it is. And while Laura insists on knowing what’s underneath the carpet – the middle class preoccupation with floorboards or a need to uncover buried secrets? – we, too, are wondering about that wine stain and what it might have lead to.
Finally, in 2012, recently separated Mark is coming to terms with new and unfamiliar mating rituals with spiky Lucy, who may or may not have an ulterior motive for agreeing to come back to his for a drink after the pub. Their verbal sparring – Lucy needling Mark for his reticence, Mark asking Lucy to justify her caustic comments – resurrects the uneasiness from Act One; Lucy clearly has unresolved issues from the past, which she believes only being inside this physical space can cure. And while the tying up of narrative threads seems a little too neat, it is this seemingly odd couple who offer the real hope for a fresh start, forging a new relationship from the embers of past pain and loss. It is odd, then, that the actual ending, accompanied as it is by a blare of 80s rock, comes across as a bit, well, naff. The only false note, for me…
Hannah Clark’s simple yet evocative set – a bay windowed living room, complete with coving and cornicing, its walls plain-plastered – allows for invention in the audience’s minds as well as the characters’. That spray of spilled red wine becomes a motif that, while not visible, makes its presence felt; the past staining the present in each of the acts, unacknowledged emotions and unexpressed truths rotting down through the years.
For such a compact piece, Forever House offers much, its exploration of the nature of domestic space and how we negotiate it, within families and society in general, giving you much to ruminate on. Waldron has an exceptional ear for dialogue, and every character rings with credibility, expressing their particular truth with individual clarity.