The Three Minute Theatre, Afflecks Arcade, Manchester; Thursday 15th March, 2018
Set in the very house that they all grew up in, China Plates and Pearl Earrings is the story of three bickering siblings who are forced to reunite and re-engage as they go about trying to settle the affairs of their recently deceased parents.
It becomes immediately clear that there has been a major falling out. Sisters Nicola and Julia are furious that their brother Bryan didn’t even attend the funerals, they point the finger of blame squarely at their hated sister-in-law – a hatred driven by an all-consuming fear that she will soon be eating off dad’s china plates and wearing mum’s pearl earrings.
As they go about the emotionally painful task of deciding what to sell, what to keep and what to throw away, the stubborn trio suddenly discover that there are cracks in more than just their sibling relationships. The threat of a bricks and mortar collapse due to unmanaged subsidence forces all three of them to reconsider what they’re doing with their lives and why.
China Plates and Pearl Earrings presents all the awkwardness of seemingly irrational hostility within a family unit. There are several scenes of dark humour as the misbehaving children wind each other up as only siblings can do, touching all the raw nerves and pressing all the right buttons in order to gain the upper hand on each other.
But interspersed with the unfolding modern-day drama are some altogether more serene and tranquil flashbacks – scenes depicting the parents themselves, years earlier in the same house sat on the same sofa, long before they had the three offspring who quarrel so childishly in the modern day. This portrayal of events in the same physical space exactly one generation earlier transforms China Plates and Pearl Earrings from being a titillating episode of a soap opera into something much more artistic, opening the story up to theatrical expression and encouraging the audience to contemplate the characters and their actions much more deeply.
China Plates and Pearl Earrings is a relatively small scale production on the Manchester theatre scene yet it ticks all the right boxes. The delivery is impressive, with the most notable extra effort being made in the use of live instruments to enhance the auditory experience. As such this is a show that gets the basics of theatre right far better than some companies who have the relative luxury of larger budgets and larger venues.
|Visual pleasure||Surprisingly well staged given the confines of the performing space. The action revolves entirely around one sofa, though use of lighting and screens helped to create the feel of a small, cosy house.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Very good use of a live mini orchestra to provide backing and incidental music, though they were ever so slightly too close as some dialogue was drowned out by the score on a couple of occasions.||3|
|Architecture & Theme||A well written play with a strong plot and some amusing comedic scenes. The shocking “twist” at the end seemed a little far fetched given what had been portrayed before, but otherwise this is a well rounded concept and is probably a viable bet for a bigger platform.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Strong and convincing performances, most notably from Lorna Newman in the lead role as Nicola.||4|
|Overall impact||Ticks all the right boxes and delivers in a miniature form what other productions with far larger budgets and grander visions have failed to achieve. The story and the circumstances portrayed are convincing and believable, this has the feel of a solid TV drama.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|