Grief is something that most people will experience at least once in their life, and this is a topic that “Helen” at Theatre 503 portrays beautifully. Helen is forty when she loses her husband. Becca is fifteen when her Dad dies. Then it’s just the two of them, what do they do next?
Maureen Lennon’s play, shortlisted for the Theatre503 International Playwriting Award, unfolds through snapshots of their relationship over the next forty years. Joys and traumas, laughs and arguments. Exploring the thread which binds them together and the different ways they damage and save each other. A play about love, grief, and two women up a hillside with ashes stuck to their trouser leg.
The writing by Maureen Lennon is very strong, and although there are only two people on stage, they multi-roll, and I ended up being completely immersed in the world and setting. The eighty five minutes went very quickly, and the text has the perfect blend of trauma, and some very upsetting scenes, mixed with humour and some laugh out loud moments. The audience reactions perfectly portrayed the different emotions, laughing out loud during one scene, and wiping away tears in the next.
Jo Mousley plays Helen (A mum whose husband died), and Chloe Wade plays Becca (Helen’s fifteen year old daughter who lost her Dad), and they both had an incredible chemistry with it being really believable that they could be mother and daughter. The play starts off with Becca aged fifteen, and shows time moving on and how the grief still affects them both years later, with Becca growing up, getting GCSE results, moving to university, getting married and having a child of her own. They wear the same clothes and have the same set throughout, which did get confusing at times as I couldn’t see any physical progression to show time moving on. However, the scene changes are done very cleverly through changes in lighting and dramatic musical interludes which I really liked. In fact, sound and lighting was used very well all the way through, and sound effects and music really helped with the immersion, and made me picture the settings they were in, even though there was a minimal use of set and costumes.
The set (designed by Alice Hallifax, and built by Andy Ross) was very minimalistic, but worked very well. It was mainly a blank stage with a blank background, however, in the middle was a mix between stairs, benches and shelves which is very hard to describe. This was used very well, and was used for all the above things – they were sat on, things were put on them and they were climbed up like a cliff. This was all that was needed, as it sets the scene, and allows you to imagine everything else being there in your head, which definitely happened for me at times.
Overall, I thought the play was really well done, and I came out with a lot to digest, and stronger understanding of why family is so important, and how grief can hit us all at anytime, often (Like in Helen and Becca’s case) very suddenly.
"Helen" is a traumatic but enlightening story showing the importance of family through clever storytelling, and is a show that most people will be able to relate to and see themselves or a loved one in.
Helen runs at Theatre 503 until the 27th May - for more tickets and information, you can follow this link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Reviewed by Mark (@markhobbs_)