Limbo @ Arcola Theatre, London


Caroline Williamson

directed by
Dan Sherer
Claire is seventeen and works in a meat-packing factory. She is young for her age, a timid sort. She lives alone and her life is a narrow one. Her pleasures come at the weekends, when she heads out on the town with the other, older factory girls. But she’s not as worldly as they are, she can’t handle her drink like they can, and, when she is approached by a man old enough to be her father, she finds that she enjoys his attention, and sees nothing wrong with it or, if she does, she never says so.

Soon Claire is pregnant, this older man’s child growing within her. He is forty-something, married, with a grown up son of his own. But he takes her shopping, buys stuff for the baby and calls her on the phone. So she doesn’t complain, doesn’t plead with him to leave his wife, no, she just takes what is given to her in every sense.

Declan Feenan’s monologue is an intense and unsettling peace of writing, stark in its simplicity and as much about what is said as what isn’t. Claire is an incredibly passive character; she accepts everything life throws at her, calmly, blithely. She can barely comprehend why this man might want her, but she accepts his advances, lets him take her home, take her to bed. She seems to view the world at a distance, as if she is a spectator of her own existence. As a result, one soon starts to suspect that something stamped the fight out of her long before this man came along, even if Feenan provides almost no information about Claire’s childhood or her life before she started work at the factory.

Caroline Williamson plays Claire with her hair tousled and her voice jittery. She is forever on the brink of tears and constantly shifts from foot to foot, playing with the zip on her top. Director Dan Sherer positions her against a black brick backdrop, fixed between twin spotlights, as if under interrogation. These beams cast dramatic shadows across her face, making her appear gaunt and pallid, and heightening her childlike qualities.

Though the constant tearful waver in her voice occasionally threatens to become irritating, Williamson’s performance successfully holds the attention throughout and she has sufficient presence to keep the audience with her. Lorna Ritchie’s striking jagged metal water feature, placed at one side of the otherwise bare stage, represents the lake from beside which the shivering Claire tells her story, and seems perfectly in keeping with the tone of the material.

However, though it is sensitively performed, there is something unsatisfactorily static about the production. One woman talking solidly for an hour or so can sometimes be all you need in the theatre – if the material is strong enough – but, in this case, the emotive power of the narrative gradually ebbs away and, in the end, Claire’s plight only dents your heart rather than breaking it.

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