Manchester, 1981. We are in the still room of a small failing hotel, a place of little ambition where the only form of escapism comes from watching the Diana and Charles wedding on TV. And yet, the 17-year-old waitress Janice (Kate James) wants something more. She knows that she is destined to bigger things, and is waiting for her O levels results to know if she can ever achieve her dreams. Funny, energetic and touching, “The Still Room” at Park Theatre depicts the tragicomedy of young women imprisoned by the norms of their social class and gender.
The whole narrative centres around the interactions of the waiting staff of the hotel in between shifts, or while they are running around carrying plates, shouting orders and cleaning cutlery. Despite it being a “still room”, the energy is very much alive, and every scene incorporates at least some form of action. The loud and opinionated Janice is the most chaotic element of the kitchen, and the rest of the staff often teases her about her eccentricity. Even her best friend Karen (Larner Wallace Taylor), who in opposition is calm and a little dull, struggles to understand why her friend would want to leave town. The biggest concern of the two friends, however, seems to be about sex and how to lose their virginity. Sex is the only form of emancipation the girls can really dream of and is a central point of the play that keeps coming up, which is quite realistic for a play about conversations between curious teenagers.
Everything changes when the beautiful and elegant Diane (Zoe Brough) starts working in the kitchen to pay for her holiday in Greece. Janice can’t help but compare herself to a girl who is her polar opposite and start holding a grudge as the general attention pivots toward this new waitress. The dynamic between the two girls is well explored, and despite being a little stereotypical, the duality and opposition between the characters were established very interestingly. The most striking image of the whole play was the scene where Diane accidentally burns her ankle and lies on the floor surrounded by the staff, while Janice is having sex for the first time in the kitchen. The simultaneous panting and screams of the two girls blurred the line between pain and pleasure and cleverly played with contrasts, although the scene was slightly too crude and shocking.
The performances were all extremely convincing and energetic, and Kate James carried the whole play from start to end with undying energy and an extremely touching final monologue. Zoe Brough worked amazingly as the protagonist’s opposite, and embodied Dian’s grace and elegance to perfection. Larner Wallace Taylor as Karen had a slouched and snarky attitude that was very suited for comedic relief. The rest of the cast included Chris Simmons as Kevin the manager, a clownish character with a baggy suit that was a little too enthusiastic about the girls; Jane Slavin as Bernice, an overworked middle-aged waitress; and Jack Colgrave Hirst as Dean, a cocky waiter with an arrogant and flirty attitude.
Writer Sally Rogers wrote the play after her own experience in service as a teenager, where not only was sex extremely present and was all that existed but young girls were constrained to what was expected of them on many levels. “The still room” tells the story of a girl who tries to set herself free from these expectations, but is already tragically caught in the net with no possibility to escape. Get your tickets for the play at www.parktheatre.co.uk
Photo credit: Multitude media
Reviewed by Céline Galletti – Celine is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from France and Italy, she follows her passion for writing and art by studying Comparative Literature at UCL, London. As an international student living in London, she is determined to fully experience and understand the city’s vibrant arts scene, and be a part of its creative storm.