There are some little nuggets of gold in ‘In Skagway’, the award-winning play by Irish writer Karen Ardiff, currently playing at the Arcola in London.
The play tells the story of two Irish women who have fallen to the bottom of the pile and ended up in an Alaskan town at the end of the Gold Rush. Frankie is a former actress of questionable talent, who has been crippled by a stroke, (played by Angeline Ball,) and May, is her lifelong friend, babysitter and nurse, (played by Geraldine Alexander). Somewhere over the years, and the trailing round America, May has had a daughter, T-Belle (Kathy Rose O’Brien), who has been prospecting for gold to get them out of Skagway. When the play opens we find them in a shack, scrabbling for money to buy food, whilst T-Belle’s stash of gold lies hidden under the floorboards. But Auntie Frankie has had other ideas for the money, and now she’s incapacitated, her vanity has lost them the gold, unless the just-returned T-Belle can think of another way out.
The performances by all the cast are good, in particular, Angeline Ball as Frankie before the stroke, is fiery and fierce, willing to do anything in her pursuit of her career, and Natasha Starkey as prostitute ‘Nelly the pig’ is a mix of frenetic, desperate sexuality, an echo of Frankie’s former self.
The past is blurred with the present as the story unwinds, and we discover a bit about how the women got here and hints of why they are trapped together, through personal debts and family bonds.
It is the sections in the past that are the most compelling, as the secrets and lies that have kept these women together for so long, are revealed, in pockets of bright light, as Frankie’s memories begin to splinter.
In the present, Frankie is mute in a chair as life goes on around her, and it’s not till the end that we get a disembodied voiceover telling us what she’s feeling. Individually, I liked all these different elements of the play; the present, the past and the altered reality at the end, but the meshing of the three didn’t quite work for me, and seemed somehow unbalanced.
However, this play has some really stunning little moments and excellent performances, and how often do we have the opportunity to see a play featuring four main female characters?
‘In Skagway’ runs till 1 March 2014
Director Russell Bolam will be conducting a post-show talk on Monday, 17 February.
The play is published by Nick Hern Books.
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