Image Credit: Izzy Baxter
The characters may seem familiar on paper. A young woman from a generic English town in the middle of nowhere, returning home, successful but still unsatisfied. An overprotective mother, angry that she has been left behind, desperate to keep her family together. A grandparent with some unspecified illness who gradually fades away as the play progresses. Gently, Quietly, Lovingly certainly recycles the common stock of 21st century dramatic archetypes, but it never feels clichéd or flat. Every character feels fresh as a consequence of the brilliant writing by Gabriella Turno and the exceptionally talented cast who carry their audience through a story as old as time: that of a broken family, desperately trying to save one another.
The casting of Dean Murphy as the parent was brilliant. I’m still not quite sure how he managed to pull off the role of the protagonist’s mother, yet he tackled the role beautifully. Izzie Kemal-Ur Rahim, the protagonist, led us through each scene deftly, she made the role entirely her own, totally likeable and utterly engaging. Eloise Oliver’s character quickly progressed from warm optimism to quiet devastation before the audience’s eyes. Her understated acting made her scenes the most touching, despite her character being the most guarded.
In the first few scenes, particularly the scene in the graveyard, the pauses felt manufactured and a little bit false. Unfortunately, they cluttered up and slowed down a scene which should have felt empty, making it more difficult for the audience to get lost in the play or sympathise with the character. However,this was the only moment which dragged, and the rest of the scenes were warm and authentic. As the play progresses and these awkward pauses become less frequent, the actors quickly begin to own their performance space, gliding from scene to scene, and line to line with an easy professionalism. There were no weak links in the cast.
Gabriella Turno’s writing is absolutely exceptional, it goes far beyond what one would normally expect from student theatre, particularly in its representation of women. The women argue throughout the play, but the writing is careful, the arguments are refreshingly rational, never a consequence of jealousy or bitterness. The grandfather who dies before the events of the play take place leaves the cousin all his property for a reason we never learn, a brilliant plot twist that’s casually revealed after the protagonist’s grief and bond with the grandfather is firmly established. It would be easy to paint the protagonist as resentful and jealous, but she is unequivocally supportive of her cousin. There is predictably a huge blow out fight between the mother and the daughter, but neither character is irrational or unsympathetic. The fight between the mother and the protagonist is anticlimactic in the best possible sense of the word.The audience are kept on the edge of their seats waiting for something to break, for some-one to draw blood but that moment never comes. This portrayal of family drama is more realistic. There is no clear winner and no resolution. The characters feel like they are going through the motions of a conflict, and our protagonist leaves the fight unscathed and unchanged.
In terms of the writing itself, there were some very minor issues with the dialogue,moments where Turno should have had more confidence in her own voice. It’s hard to believe that the protagonist, a 24-year-old woman, would describe the teenagers on the bus as‘speaking slang’. The cousin’s claim that her British childhood home smelt like ‘orange blossoms’ felt far too poetic. But Turno is evidently incredibly talented, drawing laughter from her audience with an enviable effortlessness.
The way the scene progressed from fight to monologue was striking in its mundanity,with the mother proudly showcasing a picture of the bread her husband had baked. The best moments of the play are filled with food and drink, as is typified by the protagonist’s attempts to soothe her cousin by comparing the ocean to orange juice.
It could have been a bittersweet place to conclude the performance, but the director’s decision to end on a darker note made more sense given the play’s tone.