Theatre review: In Skagway at the Arcola

Arcola Theatre

Arcola Theatre - Credit: Archant

This is the British premier of Karen Ardiff’s award-winning play, set in the Alaskan borders of the U.S.A., at the tail end of the gold rush.

In this cold and unforgiving environment, three Irish women have washed up in a settlement called Skagway. Frankie, a once-celebrated actress, although much too young for the part, is convincingly played as a wheelchair-bound stroke victim by Angeline Ball. Geraldine Alexander is excellent as May, her companion, whose timid and loving character is compounded with hatred and lust. Kathy Rose O’Brien portrays her daughter, T-belle, tough in appearance and coarse in speech, but with an underlying gentleness. Nelly, a ruthless prostitute played by Natasha Starkey, brings light relief to this sombre scenario - and emerges unscathed.

These four strong female roles are performed with sensitivity and verve, aslthough women struggling under those conditions – especially T-belle, the gold prospector - would be a lot tougher (and dirtier too!). Neither their hairstyles nor costumes, although suitably in period, indicate the unremitting cold and acute poverty in which these women exist. This goes for Natasha Piper’s set, too - an elegant design but minimalist rather than cold and poverty-stricken.

Russell Bolan, directing this powerful piece, plays down its lyrical aspects. The flashbacks and thought-sequences are presented without change of scenery and with minimal sound effects. Only the rather clunky lighting indicates changes of ambience. Thus memory and inner thoughts come over as the everyday phenomena they are - but diminished.

This compelling production is set in a place and time far removed from modern-day experience and makes sometimes profound observations about human, and particularly female, nature in extreme conditions. It has immense potential which will, hopefully, develop and deepen during the run.

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Until 1st March.

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