Saniya Saraf praises the enchanting performances and character-building writing of Miriam Templeman’s Grace, produced for Durham Drama Festival 2021.
Durham has heard its fair share of monologues this lockdown, from Purple on Toast to the multiple showcases DST put up. The bar set was by no means an unchallenging one, yet Miriam Templeman’s ‘Grace’ exceeds all expectations in its versatile exploration of this age-old notion. The production consists of a collection of ten monologues, the themes ranging from war to motherhood, that are threaded together by the idea of grace. The marvel in Templeman’s piece lies in her characters; beautifully carved and humanistic to the core, the writing is unwavering in its investigation of sentiment and emotion. Running for an hour and fifteen minutes, the play is heavy, yet one does not notice as each monologue is versatile and independent, keeping the listener consistently engaged. While Templeman’s use of the word ‘grace’ in her monologues can sometimes be loose-fitted, she manages to capture the philosophy of the act in an enchanting manner. The filming and editing can be clumsy at times, owing to the circumstances under which it has been done, but as a whole, the play has been compiled in a charming fashion.
In its structure, Templeman is intelligent in employing a combination of active and narrative monologues almost alternatively. With a clear arc and peak, each monologue is distinctive in its unravelling of character. She hits the nail on its head with her ability to story-tell effectively.
The cast is spectacular, and perhaps the real enablers of the genius of these monologues. From Sophie Alibert’s anguished performance in ‘Credits’ to Guy Rapacioli’s intelligent depiction of a compounded parental dynamic in ‘Sorry’, each member of the cast performs the piece with impressive standards of skill and keeping in line with the theme, grace.
Motherhood is addressed twice. It is gently portrayed in Alana Mann’s character in ‘Lunchbox’, where Mann is successful in capturing the subtle subtext of a worn-out mother. In contrast to this monologue is ‘Enough’, which is powerfully performed by Jessica Price. The consistent use of the word ‘baby’, however, disrupts the flow of the writing, incongruous with the tone and unnecessarily repetitive. The acting is adept: Price captures the frustration and anger in a magnificent manner and she is realistic in the portrayals of the themes. The accent, if there had been an attempt at one, slips in and out leaving the listener a bit confused.
This is not the case with Maddie Clark as she embodies her character in tone and body. It is a delightful and charming portrayal. Like Price, she too performs the period monologue, ‘Duty’ in a believable and engaging manner.
Jacob Freda in ‘Newt’ is nuanced, and his performance is beseeching, leaving the viewer feeling almost helpless and attached. The same dexterity is evident in Jude Wegerer’s delivery of ‘Mad’, with his impressive comic timing combined with brilliant character work. Jack De Deney is splendid in his delivery of ‘Payment’, both gruelling and enrapturing in his speech.
Joe Rossiter shines in both ‘Wingspan’ and ‘Before’, his versatility unquestionable. ‘Wingspan’ stands testimony to Templeman’s writing, both lyrical and mystical, a beacon of hope to which to listen in lockdown.
Izzy Mackie in ‘After’ is the one who stands out most. Mackie blows you away; her performance is incredibly naturalistic, and character work is unmatched, subtle in her show of complex emotion. She fantastically depicts a gentle strength in her portrayal, and the audience is left with no doubt about the amalgamated range of emotion that the character is experiencing.
What is most enrapturing about the play is the concluding five minutes; the characters all coming together in a chorus of Templeman’s delightful penmanship. A thought-provoking piece of theatre, we could all do with a little bit of ‘Grace’ during lockdown.
‘Grace’ is available to watch from the Durham Student Theatre Youtube channel.
More details of ‘Grace’ and DDF plays to come can be found on the Durham Drama Festival section of this website, this First Night news article and the DDF Facebook page. Find out more about the themes and process behind the production in Miriam Templeman’s writer’s note.