by Valerie Windsor
A local hospital ward provided the location in 1987, where Effie a disoriented lady in her sixties, is being treated for burns suffered during a fire at her nursing home. She appears highly concerned for her life-time friend - Alice. It quicky becomes clear that her child-like quality and reluctance to interact with the nursing staff stems from the fact the she has lived most of her life with Alice in a mental institution.
She is being treated by the junior doctor - Ruth Kovacs. Ruth is the daughter of Czech refugees and not entirely certain that she should be in nursing, which perhaps explains why she is the outsider of the consultant's team of registrars. She is shocked to discover that her patient's name is actually Gloria and "Effie" had been coined by her father. He, having realised she was backward, had no desire to waste love nor such a posh name on that "F"ing brat. Hence "Effle" was born! Ruth's heart is touched by the story and further research reveals that Effie in her simple innocence had become pregnant about the age of thirteen. Her parent's reaction had lead to her being committed at the same time as Alice - a girl in a similar state. Records were then lost during the war and the two had passed their lives as contented prisoners of the system. Contented that is until political cost-cutting forced them into a freedom they neither desired nor could handle. A useless gift! Fifty years of stability was wrecked and the two separated by bureaucratic callousness and indifference. Alice was moved to another location and died of a stroke soon after. In an attempt to be reunited, Effie had grasped power for the first time and in anger burned down the new home. Ruth is finally inspired to grasp some control back into her own life.
A powerful portrayal by both actresses that had me engaged throughout. Ever anxious to have that next layer of tenderness, powerlessness or anger of the characters revealed. I left the theatre after "Effie's Burning" still angry, passionately wanting to cry out against political insensitivity and the sorrow of wasted, unloved lives everywhere.
Victor Martin - Sinodun Players
DOUBLE BILL'S EMOTIONAL RIDE
Double Bill by Abingdon Drama Club provided two one-act plays of contrasting emotions at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, this week - Effie's Burning, by Valerie Windsor and The Last Bread Pudding, by Nick Warburton.
Effie's Burning, directed by Malcolm Ross, featured Ruth Tschudin and Colette Lardner-Browne, and was set in a hospital ward. It tells the harrowing story of 64-year old Effie, who has lived in mental institutions since the age of 13. In hospital, where she is being treated for severe bums, her predicament touches the head of a doctor, who in turn, is struggling to cope with a bullying consultant.
Both actresses excelled in their roles and as the story unfolded, it became clear that Effie's life had been ruined when she was unfairly labelled as a "moral defective" after becoming pregnant in her teenage years. Taken from her family, she was entombed in various mental asylums, only finding hope when she befriended a girl caught up in a similar situation. But when they were separated by the authorities, Effie couldn't cope, and set fire to her bed.
The anguish, abuse of innocence, loss of freedom and the horror of institutions, are all explored in this emotionally-charged and thought-provoking play.
After a welcome interval, the mood changed instantly as a cast of seven presented The Last Bread Pudding, directed by John Hawkins, a sharp and observant play which turns the spotlight on amateur dramatics and the theatre itself.
A drama club is discussing its next venture, a play written by one of its own committee members. It is about a cricket team and centres on one of the women in the pavilion who is famed for her teas and bread puddings but secretly yearns to take up the sport herself. Hardly gripping stuff or original either, following in the footsteps of the popular play Outside Edge. The committee members quickly fall out over how to deliver such a challenge, and how to ensure the audience doesn't fall asleep as soon as the curtain goes up. Soon the bickering turns to heated arguments as the members try to inject new meanings, approaches and spin into the work. Could the bread pudding come to life like a giant - a tricky one for the props department
- and would it have legs if it did?
The play-about-a-play brilliantly ridicules 'am dram', theatrical devices and clich6s, Pinter-like pauses, soliloquies, dramatic high points, musical interludes - you name it, it comes in for attack. Cast members Ruth Lester, Bonnie Ward, Lewis Wheeler and Kate Schomberg were simply superb, with special mentions for the forthright Lynne Smith, the dithering Michael Schomberg, and Jill Calvert, as the ever-silent put-upon committee minute4aker. It's a real scream and highly recommended if the drama club decides on a repeat performance.
Roy Cooper - Abingdon Herald