Mark Ludmon reviews David Coverdale’s new show From Afar at Vault Festival starring Catherine Millsom
Thanks to technology, the volume of mail sent through the post in Britain continues to fall by around four per cent year on year. For Agnes in David Coverdale’s new play, From Afar, the decline in the written letter is something to mourn, and not just because she works in a Royal Mail sorting office. Since she was a child, she has been obsessed with what can be found inside a stamped and postmarked envelope, whether it is a predictable birthday card or a message from a loved one. It is “sharing a part of yourself,” she explains, contrasting the connections that letters make with a modern world where people are shut away in their private worlds, cut off by listening to earphones and staring at mobiles.
Sipping a mug of tea, Agnes tells her story, gradually revealing the pieces of her life that have led up to an unforeseen crisis. At its heart is her memories of a beloved godmother whose death and loss are felt by the sudden cessation of greetings cards. Sharply written with wit and heart, this solo show shines thanks to the warmth and charm of Catherine Millsom, chatting to us like a friend over a cup of tea. Her eyes sparkle as Agnes talks about her love of mail and her guarded excitement about a developing connection with a work colleague.
From Afar is currently a 25-minute “work in progress” but, in its brevity, it is a poignant portrait of love, loneliness and loss. Directed by its dramaturg Ashleigh Packham, the piece has been given added intimacy by staging it in the basement space of the small Travelling Through bookshop and cafe. With that close connection made, you want to know more about what has contributed to Agnes’ easy-going self-sufficiency that hides a deeper loneliness and sense of loss. It is rare for a show to leave you regretting that it ends way too soon.