The Ballad of the Sad Cafe ****


Queen Margaret University School of Drama and Creative Industries, Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh
Tuesday 9th December – Saturday 13th December 2008

Edward Albee’s adaption of Carson McCullers’ novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is known for is its underlying unsympathetic questioning of the meaning of love, what it is to belong, gender roles and community. Although The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is set far away from Edinburgh and in a time very different from our own, QM’s presentation of Albee’s play does not fail to continue relevantly exploring these questions for its modern audience. Director Robin Wilson effectively presents a beautifully crafted piece of theatre which feels effortlessly smooth and sleek, even though the story of the cafe is not told in linear fashion.

The success of this production relies on two contrasting strands, which work simultaneously. The first strand is that of the American small town and the mostly comic characters that inhabit it, who are used to comment on the action of the second strand. The second strand is that of the tragic story of Miss Amelia (Orlaith Larkham) and how she came to open and then close her cafe. Miss Amelia’s story gives many opportunities for the actors to deliver dramatic and tense performances, which is done simplistically and admirably in the flashback type sequence. The scenes between brothers Marvin Macy and Henry Macy, played by Luke McConnell and Samuel Jameson, were some of the strongest dramatically in the whole piece. Also, the effective tension between Larkham’s Miss Amelia and McConnell’s Marvin in the climaxing fight sequence was almost unbearable for the audience – created by the actors’ performances and by brutally realistic choreography of the fight. Overall, Larkham’s performance was skillfully complete – she mastered both the fierce, deadly and cold looks in the first act and genuine heartbreak of the second act.

Note should also be given to the vital comic performances that added a lot to the production; Kirsty Worthington and Alison McFarlane provide stability as the gossiping ladies of the town and the audience is frequently entertained by antics and laughter of the Rainy twins (Jennifer Macdonell and Madeleine Oaten). Rhys Teare-Williams’ cousin Lymon brings a mixture of naive, evil, physical and immaculately timed comedy to the performance. Teare-Williams’ ability to show his character’s desire to belong and his fascination with Marvin completes the sort of love triangle with Miss Amelia and Marvin. The differing relationships shown between the three characters reflects the central theme of love and how each characters changes when they begin to love, however unfruitful the outcome.

In general, this production is of a very high and surprising quality. However, occasionally the accents adopted by the cast were somewhat shaky and it is a difficult task to hold complete intensity for the entire length of the story. Yet, this reviewer found these slightly weaker elements unimportant due to the strength of the vast majority of the cast. It is often the case with student productions that the chemistry between the actors is particularly strong, due to the fact that they work intensely with each other. It is a sad fact that with the common demise of ensemble type company in the commercial industry; this element is not facilitated more often – as it was the key strength of this production.



3 Responses to “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe ****”

  1. 1 Ali McFarlane

    Thanks for the review Amy, really glad you enjoyed it and found it to be of such a high standard. Thought your David Copperfield review was very truthful and accurate, as well. x

  2. 2 Jamie Laing

    A very astute and honest review Amy especially considering how close you are to the cast. I was also extremely impresssed with the show. The sheer energy and physicality was moving and the performances allowed the audience to empathise with characters who could have been played in a very unsympathetic light by lesser performers.
    Btw it’s a shame how hard it is to find this site. Google doesn’t seem to find it at all. Unless you know the address you’d have real difficulty findin the reviews.

  3. Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful post.

    Many thanks for supplying this info.

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