Monday 23rd February 2020 at Leeds Playhouse (Bramall Rock Void).
Evelyn (Judith Jacob) is lighting candles on a Birthday cake when a ring of the doorbell brings Jackie (Penny Layden) out from the cold and into the fire as it were, placing her centre stage in a living room which periodically doubles as courtroom.
It’s tense from the off. When an awkward, recognisably autopilot comment about a nice home creates an instant stand off about expectations and pre-conceptions, we are provided with an icy, sharp tension which refuses to dissipate. Here we have women not just at odds, but at war, each with a comrade to fight for and each with a fierce family loyalty to uphold.
The instant tension hangs on tight, ebbing and flowing for the duration as our two mothers land blows and tread carefully in turns, each seeking a form of security from the other. Jacob is a magnetic force here, bringing a sense of bottomless inner strength and gritty perseverance to her words. There’s an unshakeable dignity in her demands for answers and rarely is an internal battle with prolonged suffering and rage communicated so well as here. Mel Pennant’s writing is urgent with a gravitational pull towards hard truths both personal and societal and Jacob hammers it home with impressive force.
Jacob is well matched by Layden too. Jackie is a complex character in a different way and carries herself as a ball of nervous energy bound tightly by worries for the future and an exhaustion with the past. We get the opportunity to see a mind dodge and challenge things its been investing in for years; we literally see the moment of truth land like a lightning bolt and Layden navigates that danger zone of melodrama with great skill, delivering drama but steering clear of the ‘duff duff’ moments.
That said, there are some decidedly obvious and overdone moments which feel a little like the final five of an Eastenders episode along with a few snags in the overall details of the plot. None of those details dim the stellar central performances however and by and large, Pennant spins a twisting web which reaches not one but two distinct moments of unravelled revelations which prove one of the most impressive things about Seeds.
Director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour handles the static stage space well, using the close quarters to throw more fuel on the fire with a few short steps in one direction or the turn of a body in another. Helen Coyston’s designs place a portrait in our central focal point which dominates the space both physically and in the exchanges we see.
This is an impressive two hander which wears its politics and sense of social justice on its sleeve. We meet subjects which are unfailingly difficult to address well which are handled here with a delicate mix of unsettling spotlighting of implicit and explicit racism and shocking exchanges. The all important tension is impressively held to provide an interesting study of what lies beneath outward appearances, what it takes to crack the rotted foundations of lies and grim legacies and ultimately, what becomes of the seeds we plant.
Seeds is presented by Tiata Fahodzi and Wrested Veil in association with Leeds Playhouse, Soho Theatre and Tara Finney Productions. It plays Leeds Playhouse until February 29th 2020 and you can find tickets here.