Tapestry @ Greenwich Playhouse, London

cast list
Jenny Pratchett
Lynne-Marie Haslam
Lyndsey Lewis-Smith
Fraser Warriner
Hannah Purdy
Catherine Capelin
Stacey Evens
Amy Hamdoon
Craig Heyworth

directed by
Kenn Oldfield

I mean this complimentary: Tapestry, presented by the GSA Conservatoire at the Greenwich Playhouse, is like a bad joke.

Not any bad joke mind, I’m talking about a specific kind. It’s usually told by a supporting friend you know the type after a tearful outburst when you’re trying to recover your composure. Your mate helps you along with a few banal, trivial, stupid remarks. They’re not funny, but you laugh anyway, a jittery laugh, and for a few moments everything’s going to be alright. For a few moments anyway. If its catharsis you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

As a dark comedy, the GSA’s latest offering manages to be both malignant and benign. Tapestry approaches cancer and its affects with a scarcely-concealed grin. At times, the play may flirt with benignancy to too great a degree; regardless, there are some stunning moments in there.

Having raised so little at a charity jumble-sale, an unlikely band of stereotypes decide to boost their earnings with a fashion show and celebrity auction. Organising an event on this scale leads the group to consider the integrity and direction of their union.

The play begins amiably enough. The characters are well implemented and the players clearly relish the stage. But Tapestry struggles to assert itself before the interval it simply lacks impetus, seeming shallow and aimless. There are one or two moments where the writing could have been better better researched, certainly, in its oncological aspects and some of the textual humour could have been delivered with a little more punch.

Such disinterest is short-lived, however, and my investment in gin at half-time proved a little hasty. I wish I’d saved the fortification until later, and with good reason.

Tapestry has a big, bleeding heart. In its (eminently likeable) fumbling for purpose, it hits upon something quite rudimentary. Its nothing new or original or surprising, its pretty much as basic as you can get: Fawsett’s play is about loss; about missing loved ones and fearing death.

One scene certainly dominates the memory. Granny Shauna taunts cross-dressing Kim by linking his androgyny with his relationship to his mother. In turn, Kim explains that his mother has recently died of cancer, and that he is now estranged from his father. If the tears we shed for others are indeed tears for ourselves a realisation of our own mortality, as the play suggests then Craig Heyworth’s performance here makes a method-actor of us all, a feat alone worthy of the entrance fee.

It would seem that death comes to us all. This may sound trivial in its common-sense obviousness, but if a snappy phrase could delineate an entire argument, if a few words were really capable of confining the irreducible abyss of human emotion, then we would have no need for theatre, no need for art.

For this very reason, Tapestry’s shortcomings become its greatest strength. The struggle to express is itself placed on stage and dramatised, and a sense of enormity is conveyed by the failure to do so. The inherent artifice which underpins the plays twist illustrates this point: a narrative contrivance offers us reprieve, but it is obviously and pathetically false. Our gaze is averted from the horror of moribundity but guiltily so; we are complicit in the charade because it affords us comfort.

Oldfield’s production is saved by some arresting performances; with a little polish, a little ambition, this could have been masterful. As it stands, Tapestry is flawed but worthwhile.

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