Paul T Davies reviews Kenny Emson’s Sirens now playing at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.
Kenny Emson’s plays are rooted in working-class Essex, where cheap plonk is bought from the local offie, smokes are shared between lovers and potential partners, love can begin at the local garage, and high-rise flats sing of potential and wasted opportunities. They are authentic, poetic, and Sirens may just be his best play yet.
Rory and Gemma break into the Mersea Island RNLI station when they are 17, he wants to run away and leave the island, she wants him to notice that she isn’t drinking, He has stolen the charity collection so he can escape, and time shimmers and scene two is seventeen years later, and we see the consequences of that night. He is now, and in the eyes of the island will always be, an ex-prisoner, and he is making fraught, gentle connections with his 17-year-old daughter, Isla. The third scene moves on another seventeen years, and Rory and Gemma are now middle-aged, contemplating loss and the ties that bind them to the island and the community.
This is a beautifully acted production, all three performers totally inhabiting their roles, and conveying a multitude of things not said, promises broken, and emotions as strong as winter storms. Simon Darwen is outstanding as Rory, capturing the awkwardness and gawkiness of teenage angst and love, maturing to a brittle middle age, understanding that life lives in the mundane, that he may just be able to get by. As Gemma, excellent Tanya-Loretta Dee captures her need for love in the first act, and a women worn down by loss in the last scene, and Jesse Akele is wonderful as Isla, feisty, mouthy, innocent at 17, ready to break out of the island to the big world of Chelmsford.
The play works so well because of its gentleness, the final scene is heart-breaking because the characters don’t rage against the dying of the night, and because, as Dylan Thomas also put it, time passes. Director Bethany Pitts lets the play breathe, the rhythm is as perfect as the waves we hear on the shore, and the design is a triumph, filling the studio space with time and life, the sunken area being not just a lifeboat, but the gap always between the characters. It’s an excellent start to the Mercury Originals season, and I urge you to get a ticket before you have to fight for one!