13 Sunken Years
4 stars ****
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
THERE ARE SO MANY things wrong with this UK premiere production of 13 Sunken Years – by Finnish playwright Paula Salminen – that it’s tempting, at first, to dismiss the whole project out of hand. The acting is uneven, some of the staging ideas barely work, the venue is unsympathetic to Jan Bee Brown’s slightly over-elaborate set, and the play itself shudders to a sudden halt in a way that is more irritating than poised.
Yet for all that, there’s an insistent, pulsing energy in Maria Oller’s production, staged jointly by Stellar Quines and Lung Ha’s, Scotland’s company that works with adults with learning difficulties. The play tells the story of a family of women without men, living in a small riverside town in Finland, whose lives reach a crisis on the day when the granddaughter, Eva, is about to leave school and head for university. On that day, her mother, Helena, suddenly disappears, and her grandmother, Ursula, shows the first signs of dementia; and for the next 13 years, Eva’s life goes into suspended animation, as she cares for her grandmother, rages silently at her absent mother, and watches her schoolmates’ lives overtake hers.
Over 75 minutes Eva’s story is told through a winding narrative that nonetheless inches forward through the years; and the play is illuminated by a bold trio of central performances from the great Anne Lacey as Ursula, Louise Ludgate as a flamingly sexy Helena, and Lung Ha’s actor Nicola Tuxworth as a stubborn, vulnerable Eva. By the end, Eva seems set to continue the family tradition of single motherhood; and if her relationship with her own possible father, touchingly played by Billy Mack, remains unresolved, there’s a sense of a tough, caring female energy moving on into the future, with or without any serious help from men. “They have their stories, we have ours,” says Ursula; and she is not wrong.