To discover the profound process behind what makes a production truthful and striking, and furthermore to realise how much intense work a playwright must sometimes go through to produce a text is incredibly enlightening. Today, I feel that I am one teeny tiny step closer than yesterday to understanding where the effortless impression of a great theatre production comes from. And that teeny tiny step is nothing.
The inspiration behind Vivienne Franzmann’s latest play Pests, now showing at the Royal Court, came from working with Clean Break, a theatre company created by two women prisoners who now deliver theatre opportunities to women offenders and women at risk. The story tells of two sisters, played by the excellent Ellie Kendrick and Sinéad Matthews, who live in a squat in London and struggle daily to get their fix in drugs and food and to keep their friendship alive.
The precision and quality that is noticed in the two actresses’ craft surely came from Franzmann working for long periods alongside women “who, as children, have been neglected, abused, raped, beaten […] women with obvious mental health vulnerabilities, women with learning difficulties”. In the production, this is taken to new levels thanks to voice, fight and movement coaches who contributed to Kendrick’s sometimes almost incomprehensible speech and Matthews’s nervous trembling due to her addiction, to name only a few details.
Director Lucy Morrison led the actresses with chaotic ease through the pyramidal piles of mousse, litter and mattresses that one could almost smell, designed by Joanna Scotcher. The Wizard of Oz leitmotif and the girls’ awareness of the possibilities the world had to offer despite them seeming to be trapped reminds us of what we may have in common with them. Finally, the uninterrupted length of the play was also essential in order for us to get used to the girls’ language, home and illnesses, and to feel even more implicated by their strife.
This is their life continuously, but we only sit and watch for two hours. Pests was once again an eye-opening play at this never disappointing venue that brings us so close to the realities around us.