There’s an old and well-worn and remarkably rueful song that began: “When I was a boy, time was a stranger/Story by the thousand, each my own, laughing in front of you.”
At 46, you can add another thread to this oldie: “When I was a boy, I was unsure, I was afraid, I was mad at the world/There was a writer by the day, I wrote a novel for you.” This play by American playwright Clifford Odets sounds awfully familiar, because now there’s something much, much closer to home for him in a rather different guise: the play at BAC is called C’mon C’mon! In that title and in the stories, for example, the word “c’mon” speaks a rhyming word, which may be a thing to do with young people and their foolishness.
Pamela Jennings, one of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s most original authors, created this comedy in which she sings and recites and vivifies the dead. Then she directs us in telling this story about children (her own is killed in Iraq) and her daughter, Rosie (Corinne Hall), an emotionally stunted schoolgirl who writes and sings those songs but doesn’t really listen to them.
In her wonderfully named but not terribly life-like re-creation of a backwater English village, there are good folk who give me respect for the way they see things, mostly, although some of their views aren’t just about relationships but about farming. And while the villagers tend to disagree with our intrepid heroine, a young girl who visits, there’s a neat device at the end that some of these adults see it the same way.
There’s a little bit of the American woe that Odets presents, but the play’s structure is more lyrical than sharp. And I’m rather in love with Roz’s passion for language – not least the invention of melodies, the way she starts with a question and quickly, inexorably, sums things up.
She tells the story of a dead Russian schoolgirl. At one point Rosie – probably too little to get close to Rosie’s character – decides to write a song to the dead girl. There are people singing (too few of them), and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
A score by Rick Lekonska-Hade-Sanderson is worked into and out of the drama. There’s much poetry and the occasional image that’s evocative. Mulled wine, for example, can be warm or cool; it can be sweet or bitter; it can be hot or cold, it can be salty or sweet. It’s never really good or cold, it’s just what happens when it’s mulled. Elsewhere, the songs are more so than the characters themselves; when they are words, they’re not written in stone.
The last play that Pammy directed (you can see more of her at her website) was Sweet Play, but here she’s given carte blanche and can delve more deeply into the story than anyone. As the women we hear from sing, they might also think that the music (in all the production’s settings) is a metaphor, a very old-fashioned one, something maybe sung by a tramp to keep the young laggards out of mischief and strife: their mud-burbling tramps.