By Penelope Skinner. Director Tim Hoare
Theatre on the Fly
15 Aug - 2 Sep 2012
In Fred’s American Diner on a busy English motorway, people dream of better lives. You’ll find friendly staff and get service with a smile, but not far beneath lies a deadly secret.
'A triumph for Chichester’s pop-up theatre'
The Sunday Times
Penelope Skinner’s new play serves up a beautifully plotted, blackly comic thriller that gives an unsettling portrayal of the darker reaches intimate relationships.
‘Penelope Skinner's new play is...
mercilessly funny and savagely insightful’
The Daily Telegraph on The Village Bike 2011
Theatre on the Fly is proud to introduce one of the UK’s most exciting emerging playwrights to Chichester.
Contains strong language and themes some may find distressing; not suitable for children.
Fred's Diner is supported by
When Penelope Skinner’s immensely sparky play began, one cracking line following the next, I would never have guessed that two hours later we’d be sitting in shaken silence. The eponymous Fred rules the roost in his ailing motorway diner. Melissa, his waitress daughter, has applied to Osford, attracting only Fred’s scorn (“it isn’t all bicycles and fountain pens”). The décor is American retro in coconut-ice paint. Everyone’s in the wrong place and time; wriggling free of the past and waiting on the future. It’s like The Iceman Cometh, but with cupcakes. Skinner’s men are largely a sorry lot – bad dads and worse – but her women are a tonic. Tracey Wilminson’s former jailbird, hard as nails and soft as butter, squares up to Olivia Poulet’s oblivious free spirit. And Cush Jumbo’s Melissa is achingly fine. It’s a triumph for Chichester’s pop-up theatre, for the director, Tim Hoare, and for a riveting playwright.
The neon signs beams its tawdry invitation, the glowing jukebox is primed with rock ‘n’ roll, the pastel Formica booths are wipe-clean and the walls are done up in baby-blue and candy-pink stars and stripes. This fake Fifties fantasia of nostalgic Americana is located near an English motorway: apt for a new drama, by Penelope Skinner, in which appearances can be disturbingly deceptive.
Tim Hoare’s production – the last in Chichester’s pop-up space – is deft and sensitive and, if the play takes time to find its rhythm, when it does it exerts the tension of a thriller and strikes a balance between humour and domestic tragedy that is exciting partly because it occasionally feels precarious.
It’s nearly Christmas, and the diner is festooned with forlorn decorations despite doing a dwindling business. Fred (Paul Hickey), a charismatic Irishman, is the owner and single father to Melissa (Cush Jumbo), who waits tables. She longs to escape her dad’s ersatz American Dream and follow one of her own – to read law at university. Fred, though, is reluctant to let her go and, as she awaits the result of her Oxford application, he resorts to nasty tactics to undermine her ambitions.
Support for Melissa is forthcoming from Heather (Tracey Wilkinson), an older waitress scarred by her past and from Chloe (Olivia Poulet), an upper-crust flake just back from gap-year globe-trotting and gazing aimlessly, yet with growing panic, into a shapeless future. But it emerges that Melissa has reasons for wanting to get away that she can’t, or won’t, discuss.
Themes of justice, equality, opportunity and exploitation bubble away, along with the ever-brewing coffee on the counter, and there’s a stimulatingly acrid undertaste of ire in Skinner’s depiction of a world inside the diner and beyond in which women are still so often expected to smile, serve and, as Fred puts it, to be “easy on the eye”. But the play is also about love and there is intense tenderness, especially in the quasi-maternal bond between Heather and Melissa, and in the tentative friendship between the damaged older woman and Raad Rawi as a good-hearted, lonely long-distance lorry driver. Uneven it may be; this is, though, a moving and discomfiting piece that leaves a dark stain on the memory.
Estimated running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (interval to be confirmed)
Please note this production is unreserved bench-style seating and, if paying on the door, tickets are payable by cash only.
Friends & Concessions: £15
Under 26s (ID required): £10 (or £25.50 when buying all three at the same time; available by phone only)
Day seats: £8.50 (available in person from 10am on the day of the performance)
Standing: £5 (available from one hour before the performance only when all seats have sold)
Olivia Poulet as Chloe
Tracey Wilkinson and Paul Hickey
Cush Jumbo as Melissa
Paul Hickey as Fred and Cush Jumbo as Melissa
Tracey Wilkinson as Heather
Cush Jumbo and Paul Hickey