Trestle review – passion, rage and whist in village-hall romance

Southwark Playhouse, London
Energetic Denise and stuck-in-his-ways Harry bond during a series of brief encounters in a community centre, in Stewart Pringle’s prize-winning play

Oldsters are back on the theatrical map. Like Barney Norris’s Visitors, Stewart Pringle’s play, which won this year’s Papatango new writing prize, offers a sympathetic view of a pair of senior citizens and suggests that age offers no immunity to passion. But likable as the play is, I felt that, aside from a couple of pieces of visual symbolism, it could have worked just as well on radio.

It shows a couple slowly bonding in the gap between events in a dusty Yorkshire village hall. Harry is a set-in-his-ways widower, reconciled to his solitude, who chairs a weekly meeting of the local improvements committee. Denise, meanwhile, is a sprightly, outward-looking figure who runs a dance-and-aerobics class for those whose joints are starting to creak. What starts as a series of brief encounters between natural opposites, united by a need to pack away the trestle table, gradually turns into a friendship that prompts the same feelings of jealousy, huffiness and rage you might find in people half their age.

Gradually becoming friends … Gary Lilburn (Harry) and Connie Walker (Denise) in Trestle.
Gradually becoming friends … Gary Lilburn (Harry) and Connie Walker (Denise) in Trestle. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Pringle, a dramaturg and critic, writes well about divergent attitudes to retirement. The obdurate, puritanical Harry has settled into a safe routine, full of wistful whist and minor acts of charity, while the more dynamic Denise runs a book club and dreams of becoming a writer. Both, however, are touched by a loneliness that draws them instinctively together. But while Pringle charts the ups and downs of their relationship, he hints all too briefly at the pair’s potential for change. If drama, as Aristotle suggested, is based on the movement from ignorance to knowledge, this couple don’t go on a sufficiently extensive journey.

Cathal Cleary’s production, however, accurately pins down the spartan bleakness of multi-purpose village halls and is winningly acted. Connie Walker captures both the bright-eyed enthusiasm and emotional disappointments of the bustling Denise, who refuses to surrender to the advancing years. Gary Lilburn is equally good at suggesting that Harry’s caution conceals a wry Yorkshire humour that leads him to tell Denise, after she has reproached him for his committee’s conservatism, that he’s been out firebombing an orphanage. Even if it could go further, it’s a good play that will be a gift to older actors.

• At Southwark Playhouse, London, until 25 November. Box office: 020-7407 0234.

Contributor

Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

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