The Lantern Theatre has a strong reputation for staging interesting new drama and it was heartening to see a near-capacity audience for the Abandoned Theatre Company’s production of Winona by Christopher T. Harris. It was actually the first ever performance of the play, which after Liverpool goes on to Cheltenham, Cardiff and Aberystwyth.
Elsewhere we have a review of The Caretaker, which was staged at the Lantern last year, and I was struck by the similarities between the two plays. As in the Harold Pinter classic, Harris examines how the lives of two siblings are disrupted by a stranger’s arrival in their midst. But Winona is still a strikingly original work, and one which clearly intrigued and absorbed the audience throughout.
The siblings are brother and sister Daf and Kate, who’ve just moved into a cottage in Wales. It was owned by their parents but is a place they last visited as children. We learn that their mother and father met violent deaths within two weeks of each other, and it soon becomes clear that both Daf and Kate are haunted not just by this but also by the troubled relationships they had with their parents when they were alive.
Daf makes a dramatic entrance at the beginning of the play when he enters carrying the skeleton of a sheep, which he’s found in a field. His unsettling fascination with death is confirmed when he reports that he’s seen a man outside sticking the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth and admits that he wanted him to pull the trigger. Kate insists that they try to help the man and he’s invited into the cottage, where (rather like Davies in The Caretaker) he begins to make himself at home. A complex triangular relationship between the three characters develops, as power, influence and affection shift and change in unpredictable ways. But always present is an underlying sense of unease and apprehension – clearly felt by the audience, who literally didn’t know what might happen next.
One of the main strengths of this excellent play is the characterisation. Each of the three characters is richly drawn but also difficult to fathom, eliciting sympathy at one moment, horror the next. The young cast vividly capture these ambiguities. Ally Goodman is brilliantly enigmatic as Ed, the stranger who’s sometimes easygoing and innocent, sometimes sinister and malevolent, and sometimes all of these things at the same time. He reveals some of his mysterious background late in the play when he gives Ally a potted version of his life story, though I found this a little unconvincing and maybe even unnecessary. Lesley-Staum Lewis is wonderfully natural as Kate, outwardly the most ‘normal’ of the three but slowly revealing her own inner darkness. Andy Evans handles with great skill Daf’s contradictions: fiercely protective of his sister, his love and concern for her are moving but also lead him to be dangerously controlling.
The play is quite short (about an hour and a quarter) but even so time sped by as one twist was followed by another, each one raising more questions one was eager to find the answer to. Death and suicide may have hung heavily in the air, but there were plenty of humorous moments as well. Winona was enthralling to watch, and deserves many more performances in the future.
Visit The Lantern’s website to see what else is coming up!