Wow! Two world premiers in two days. Sunday was ‘Arya’ at Huddersfield Town Hall which was a Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra by Jasdeep Singh Degun, and Monday ‘Seeds’ a new play by Mel Pennant presented by Tiata Fahodzi and Wrested Veil in association with Leeds Playhouse, Soho Theatre and Tara Finney Productions. The two events could not have been more different in mood with the first being life-affirming and uplifting whilst the second was dark and confrontational.
Seeds is a play about prejudice on several levels. There is the racial element, the family agenda and the day-to-day stereotypes which don’t fall into either of the above categories.
The play lasts for just over an hour and a quarter with just two people on stage throughout and takes place in the front room of Evelyn, played by Judith Jacob, a black woman who is commemorating what would have been her son Michael’s thirtieth birthday, had he not been stabbed to death exactly fifteen years previously on his fifteenth. Her day is disturbed when she is visited by Jackie, Penny Layden, who has called out of the blue to ask Evelyn if she will stop the vendetta against her son Daniel who had been accused and stood trial for the murder but been acquitted. She has just found out that Daniel is to become a father and she doesn’t want his girlfriend to be subjected to this pressure at the most dangerous part of her term. Evelyn insists that Daniel is the murderer and informs Jackie that some new DNA evidence has come to light. Although this is not a thriller as such, the denouement of the piece would be spoiled if I carried on with the narrative, it is, after all, the prejudices which are the main drivers of the piece.
The conversation between the two women is like a verbal boxing match beginning with a sparring session after which things alternate between the tactical and brutal.
The most obvious illustrations of the racial element are the insistence of Evelyn that all of the police are racist as are the judges, the legal system, and white people in general. Jackie throws this back at her and exhibits her attitudes in repeatedly using the term ‘you people’ and generalising black youth as muggers.
The second cause for prejudice is the universal belief of a mother that her son is perfect and beyond reproach and both show the other pictures of their offspring to prove how angelic they are/were. Jackie has a photograph of Daniel as a young child with innocent face while Evelyn has a large portrait of Michael hanging on the wall looking almost saintly. The size of the picture compared with the dimensions of the room suggest that Evelyn’s world is dominated by his presence.
Both of the above postures are obviously untenable and about to be debunked in one way or another and this is done in a very effective manner.
Although there are only two characters on stage the story is aided by Evelyn’s other, unseen, son who is confined to his bedroom and while we are told that this is because of the murder we are not privy to the exact reason, nor whether his confinement is voluntary or imposed. His regular banging on the ceiling when he wants something increased the sense of conflict and stress. The sporadic ringing of Jackie’s mobile phone also added to the tension and mystery. It was Daniel who was phoning her, but why? They obviously had an arrangement to meet up but why wouldn’t he answer when she rang him back after telling him where she was? Perhaps it was a thriller after all!
Both Judith Jacobs and Penny Layden were superb. So much so that with the first so overwhelmed by bitterness and spite and the second so despising of her that it came as a bit of a shock when they appeared hand in hand and smiling when they took the applause at the end.
The direction by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour was excellent with the tension being slowly cranked up by both conversation and the physical posturing.
The design by Helen Coyston was again spot-on especially the cramped room in which the action was set accentuating the size of the portrait on the wall. The sound and light by Xana and Simisola Majekodunmi respectively, were both subtle in sharp contrast to the script and action. There is a scene in which there is reference to a park at which time representations of trees were projected onto the back wall of the room whilst birdsong could be heard in the background. Very effective.
I must say that another star of the show was Bramall Rock Void itself which lends itself perfectly to this play. The intimacy made it feel as though we were really in Evelyn’s front room even though I was sitting several rows from the front.