A harrowing 50-minute monologue, ‘Tea Set’ explores loneliness and neglect at the edge of a new millennium, performed with incredible intensity by Amy Molloy. Sat at a small table in front of us, desperately trying to piece back together a broken teacup, a young woman reflects on her experience of caring for Mrs A, an elderly lady who has been left on her own for the Christmas and New Year holidays, 1999. It’s the contradiction of ending and beginning signified by the new millennium that seems to temporarily paralyse the two women, who are caught in a space where it’s impossible to determine their futures. At first, she tells us, the young woman has come here with the sole purpose to earn money, but soon develops a relationship with her charge over the short course of time they spend together. Molloy describes their revealing exchanges, and later, when Mrs A gifts an old tea set (originally meant for her daughter) to the younger woman, a bond is formed that causes an emotional surge neither expected. As we delve deeper into her history, it transpires that Mrs A has not only suffered the loss of companionship, but also been the victim of a violating event that has left her feeling hollowed out. Her family and society may see her as a burden, and at worst an inconvenience, but in reality the demands of living for her are the most difficult to comprehend. The tight, grey space of the Pleasance That lends itself well to this testimony; it’s a story that doesn’t require much in the way of set and decoration, the words do all the work.
Gina Moxley’s play is full of despair, and at times Molloy displays flashes of anger as she thinks back to the pain that leads to Mrs A’s drastic decision. Moxley raises questions over the right to choose whether we stay or go, and if those choices should be made on our behalf, and the lives (and memories)we become responsible for. ‘Tea Set’ also asks us how sentimental we should be about death, and in this vein the play confronts a pressing issue of the neglect of elderly people, something that the company as a whole is hoping to share with its audiences. Despite its traumatic content, however, the piece displays a tender relationship between these two women as one that brings some comfort to them both.
Edinburgh Festival: Pleasance Courtyard (That venue) ‘til 23rd and then 29th-30th August
(c) Joanna Lally, 2015