Tom Ratcliffe’s compelling play challenges our thoughts and opinions to great effect, while also offering a raw emotional experience.
How would react if you discovered someone who gave a false alibi to a murderer had been given a whole new identity and moved into your area? That is the question that lies at the centre of this fascinating play that darkly examines being judged by the public via social media.
Written by Tom Ratcliffe, Evelyn is set in the quiet seaside town of Walton-On-The-Naze, where Sandra has come to live with pensioner Jeanne with only a suitcase and a whole host of secrets that are just waiting to be uncovered. Interwoven with Sandra trying to adjust to life in the town, a community group begins to speculate about an accomplice to an infamous child murderer who might have just moved into the area. Based on true events, this is a play that challenges the vigilante mindset of communities all over the country in this world dominated by social media.
Although initially I was a bit bemused by the inclusion of the Punch and Judy aspects of the show (with the cast playing the well known characters), as the story unfolds this aspect adds a sense of danger and threat – particularly when a child goes missing raising suspicion – particularly by Laura, who brother Kevin is dating the mysterious Sandra. But it also adds some distorted sense of humour to proceedings that adds extra depth and meaning to proceedings that keeps you guessing at which direction the play is going to take next, leaving the audience questioning what have we been told that is actually true. This aspect is heightened by the fact that Jeanne has had a dementia diagnosis and leaving Laura (who is her nurse) suspicious of Sandra’s motivations.
The use of music and well-known seaside songs performed by Michael Crean with a great sense of darkness to highlight the gripping tension of the story unfolding, whilst capturing the intimacy of the piece that keeps the production focused. Elsewhere, Rachel Sampley’s video design brings to life the community group speculating about who is actually Evelyn with increasing viciousness in a powerful way.
But it is the cast who capture the most attention in this production. At the centre of it all, Nicola Harrison as Sandra keeps the sense of elusiveness about the character consistently that by the end she still feels a bit of mystery yet a sympathetic character. Her performance makes you watch her reactions to what is being said by others very closely in a way I have never done before, keeping you thoroughly engaged as to picking up pieces and figuring out who she truly is. Rula Lenska has great fun it is clear to see playing the vulnerable but stubborn Jeanne – she adds some much needed humour but with a touch of poignancy to the role that is heartbreaking to watch towards the end of the play. Yvette Boakye and Offue Okbegbe play siblings Laura and Kevin – adding an extra dynamic to discovering the answer to as whether Sandra is Evelyn or not. The contrast between each of their characters approach (one sharply cynical, the other wanting to believe the best in Sandra) is a fascinating mix.
Overall, while the play takes a little time to get going and settle down into a rhythm, Evelyn is a gripping and insightful piece of theatre that will leave you thinking about the power of social media and its influence over our thoughts and opinions.
By Emma Clarendon
Evelyn continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 16th July.