Connection: Troubled Strangers Find Strength in Numbers

Wednesday 2nd October 2019 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Rachael Halliwell’s Connection is exactly what it says on the tin: a take on the connections between both strangers and those we know – though perhaps not quite as well as we think.

It’s a play which balances some well delivered comedy with some dark edges and with a distinctly northern warmth. Set locally, our characters meet at Harrogate District Hospital and gallivant to Scarborough for Act 1 before Act 2 returns us to the hospital chapel to meet a new pairing of characters. It all feels very compact and the play rests confidently on the exchanges between characters thrown together at a rough time in their lives.

Writer Halliwell takes the lead role as the troubled Catherine, a rather icy woman at the end of her tether wronged by the world and fed up of getting the short straw at every turn. She’s engaging enough but there’s a lack of connection which stems from the loud shield of self preservation she clings to. Catherine bumps into the wonderful Elaine, played very charismatically by Cathy Breeze and it’s with the development of this meeting that the play picks up. Elaine is a carer and Catherine is in need of some care, so the duo connect readily without either of them having an inkling of the woes niggling away beneath the surface.

Andrew Turner’s Steve is a great antidote to Catherine’s abrasive nature and Elaine’s brooding reflections with some classic geezer-centric laughs had before he too descends into devastation. In turn, Emma Leah Golding is the antidote to all as the optimistic guardian of Harrogate Hospital’s Chapel though in truth her role feels disappointingly small within the play at large. The four unite for some emotional exchanges and further upset before dispersing back to their own pockets of the world, leaving the connections made to blow away on the wind or to resurface with time…

Halliwell’s writing is at its best when it lands humour in unexpected places – there are some cracking one liners and some great comic timing nestled within this piece. The darker side to the writing does regrettably lose some impact thanks to the all-in approach to the characters’ stories. Each individual has a deeply dramatic background which should pave the way to some great intensity but the script doesn’t really allow for each story to be explored in full depth before the next big revelation arrives, leaving us with a tangle of half stories which have clear potential to pack a full fisted punch if only they were given more scope.

Staging is nicely simple and intimate within Harrogate Theatre’s Studio space – director Nathan Marsh makes the most of the rather static set up and set designer Caitlin Mawhinney offers simple segues between scenes -though the dimming of lights to shift scenes, which almost always carries with it that unfortunate and often unjust sense of monotony, strikes again here.

The biggest strength and strongest draw of Connection is its focus on the role of the carer and the individual within the tabard. It’s in Elaine’s narrative that we find the most depth and intrigue and it’s through Breeze’s performance that the play finds its best emotional and comic ground. If the whole play were to be elevated to Elaine’s standard, it would certainly feel more rounded, though as it stands, Connection does provide a good selection of interesting social studies.

Connection plays Harrogate Theatre until October 5th 2019 and you can find tickets here.

Images: Malcolm Johnson.

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