This gritty two-hander explores substance abuse, child trauma and centres around the fractured relationship between two sisters, Rolly and Pink. We enter the space amongst a musical compilation of If I Only had a Brain from the classic children’s film, The Wizard of Oz and a stage design resembling a crack den, strewn with newspapers, a lacklustre mattress and a sad-looking sofa.
Pink erupts from a pile of newspapers and catapults us into the start of the play with energy and pace. The past and present lives of Rolly and Pink collide through an accomplished sound and lighting design. Heavy cultural references to the girls’ past supports the story arc and backstory in tandem via The Spice Girls, The Wizard of Oz and grime music.
Tics and physical gesticulations from the sisters after using narcotics seem carefully researched and executed. Stylised movement compliments the rawness of the piece, although a jarring silent scream, multiple convulsions and red lighting, are unnecessary to explain Pink’s ill mental health when layered on such an intelligent script. The make-up and costume choices are brilliant and Rolly’s pregnancy bump and the play’s treatment of her miscarriage is convincing.
At points, the quick pace veers towards erratic through Caroline Maitland’s highly frazzled depiction of Pink. While adding an authentic, tv drama style to the show, cumulative overlapping speech makes some of the climaxes hysterical and difficult to understand. Caroline’s overly affected voice means that Vivienne Franzmann’s eloquent text is sometimes sacrificed. Vivienne’s writing really stands out, up there with Steven Berkoff’s East, which explores growing up and rites of passage in London’s East End through poetic but brutal language.
It takes a while to warm to Caroline’s impression of a junkie from the ghetto but Megan Macey’s subtle and nuanced performance as Rolly perfectly rights the imbalance and keeps the audience riveted throughout. As Rolly finds the courage to stand up to her sister and seek a better life for herself, we are all rooting for her. Both Caroline and Megan are confident and playful with their characters and each other – initiating some great comedic elements, which is refreshing and adds depth.
The stylised text of Pests, fused with hard-hitting themes and raw content creates a magnificent firecracker of a play. After the show has dissipated, we are still moved, discussing not just Pink and Rolly’s tragedy but the responsibility and the desire we felt to shed a light on all women who find themselves in similar situations with little hope or support. All in all – if you love a relevant, gritty drama – go and see this show!
Rating: **** 4 Stars
Pests runs until 9th November at the Drayton Arms Theatre, 7.30pm.
Review by Louise Goodfield and Trynity Silk