Away With The Fairies is the latest play by Bath-based playwright Gill Kirk who was inspired by the lack of good roles for women, particularly older women, to write a play with credible and interesting female characters. With the recent series of short plays at the Wardrobe under the banner of “The Bechdel Test” and the discussion at the time of the Oscars around the continuing lack of good female roles in Hollywood, this is a timely aspiration.
The cast of characters for Away With The Fairies comprises three women and, in the style of the film Harvey, an invisible troll called Rufus. The story switches throughout the play between two locations – the London home of an eccentric sculptor (with a man’s name) Stanley Sirrocco and the Orkney retreat of Nobel-prize-winning economist Isobel McCorrigan, whose lauded work may have subsequently been responsible for the 1990 recession and who now lives on a biodynamic farm which happens also to be inhabited by a troll. When Isobel decides to commission a sculpture so that Rufus will not inherit the farm after her death, she randomly chooses a London gallery which also happens to be where Stanley’s daughter Barbara works as an accountant.
The fact that much of the action in the play is catalysed by an invisible troll and that a fair amount of the dialogue is actually just one side of the character’s conversation with Rufus will not be to everyone’s liking. While the play is not clear about whether the troll’s intentions are good or bad as he meddles with these womens’ lives, either way it’s slightly disappointing that despite the all-female cast, the play still revolves around the interventions of a male figure. You could even say that for each of the women Rufus acts in an area of their lives where they feel the absence of a man – for Stanley he appears as a flirty, flattering art agent, for Isobel he’s half companion and half petulant child and for Barbara he helps her to get over her sadness about being single and childless and stop mothering her own mother so that she can pursue something for herself. You might think that the gender of an imaginary character wouldn’t matter much but though the three roles for human actors are credible, if Rufus was instead a female fairy, or a female troll, many of “his” actions would seem less believable as a “her”.
Putting this to one side, the difficulty of staging a play set in two distant locations within the Alma’s small space was handled well, although there were perhaps a few too many scene changes required, and all three non-imaginary members of the cast drew out the necessary emotion to tell their story believably. “Eccentric artist” must always be a part that actors love to play and Meg Whelan as Stanley had many of the best lines in a role that seemed to come fairly naturally to her.
As the play ends there’s no great revelation – each of the women learns some small lessons about life and finds themselves in a slightly different place from where they started but one could imagine that they might be just as likely to go back to their old ways soon after the vignettes of their lives that we see are over. In this respect though the play reflects the way real life usually pans out – taking small steps, making small mistakes, building gradual experiences on a journey to an ever-changing destination.
Away With The Fairies is on this week and next at the Alma Tavern – Tuesday 20th to Saturday 31st March at 8.30pm (no performances on Sunday or Monday).