By Lucinda Naughton
Theatre Works is transformed for The Three Graces: the audience is now placed on both sides of a long and narrow stage covered in sand. The lights are dim and there is mist about. Ominous music sounds. Stepping into this atmosphere is certainly intriguing; whispers rustle through the curious audience. There is a blackout and the music heightens before the lights hit the cast of three.
My first thought is, “I wonder how much back I’ll be seeing”; however, this is quickly wiped from my mind as the staging and movements of the trio are satisfyingly beautiful and creative. Katie Cawthorne’s direction is superb.
The physicality of the first scenes is what I am drawn to. The cast of Madelaine Nunn, Candace Miles, and Anna Rodway start off as the Three Graces from Greek mythology and they manifest in a water fountain which has stopped flowing. They speak from the perspective of this fountain having watched human society change and shift throughout history. They explore many ideas with this insight, such as motherhood, legacy, power, and climate change, which are themes that run strongly throughout the play. I found myself wrapped up in the beauty of their staging choreography, however, the dialogue quite difficult to digest at times because of the nature of the speech.
While the beginning is perhaps a little slow and lengthy, when a new scene commences, the characters change – they transform into women today and the play explores moments in their various lives. This change in theatrical style is effective and engaging. These scenes are incredibly thought provoking and powerful. The first for instance, is concerned with a friend (played so genuinely by Madelaine Nunn) and a new mother (played movingly by Anna Rodway); there is astounding disconnect between the two as only one is a mother. The play continues to bounce back and forth between the two perspectives of the Greek fountain and the present-day women. The cast shines in the present-day scenes, bringing great depth and authenticity to their roles. I found myself wanting even more of the present-day scenes; although perhaps that was part of their charm – brief, to the point, and absolutely relatable and revealing. However, as The Three Graces progresses, the Greek mythological parts grow more engaging because the audience develops more empathy with the three through their present-day characters.
Laura Lethlean’s script is very thoughtful and compelling, honestly exploring gender equality, irreversible climate change, legacy, and power through her characters’ interactions and stories. These ideas and themes are incredibly relevant to the issues women and humanity face today. The characters question whether to have kids (and how many), whether it’s really socially acceptable not to as a woman, and different reasons for not wanting to. The idea of leaving behind a legacy is explored through Nunn’s character’s insistence on one but not through kids (“Children are just an attempt at immortality”); while Miles’ character doesn’t need a legacy because she believes the world is about to end. This brings us to finally, when it comes down to it, do any of these ambitions even matter in a place we are destroying? The play ends around the chilling question in response to “We did what we could” – “Did we?”. The play is certainly a conversation starter and makes you think about your own values and choices.
The set is very creative and works so well for this play. The cast use the sand on the floor to carve patterns and play with during their speech. In the final scene more sand is poured from above in two torrents while two characters circle them, creating a beautiful visual. Rachel Lee’s lighting design is impressive and makes great use of the set. The employment of a low spotlight right down the middle of the stage is satisfying and only possible with the audience on either side. Grace Ferguson’s sound design adds much fitting ominousness and drama. There are minimal props, which are used effectively, the cast moving them in between scenes in character, adding to the play and resulting in very few blackouts. The three all wear black jumpsuits, which I think is a great artistic choice of costume and reflects the tone of the production well.
It is satisfying (and only fitting) to see so many women’s voices and work in a play looking at the perspectives of three women – it means that there is depth and understanding in the ideas and characters, conversations and relationships of these three characters, which is needed to make the play genuinely relatable.
For me, theatre’s brilliance is making you think. And The Three Graces certainly gives me a great deal to think about.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.