Last night I had my first visit to the Zion Community Centre in Bristol, a little hidden gem that I haven’t come across before but will definitely visit again. This was for a ‘A Play a Pie and a Pint’, part of the Theatres Beyond series run by the Tobacco Factory. The pie was excellent, the pint went down very well, and the play was a real gem which took a difficult subject and made it into a thought-provoking piece that also managed to be funny at times, touching and ended on a note of hope and new beginnings.
Both actresses in this piece were superb. Susan was played by Heather Williams, who conveyed the initial controlling, difficult future mother-in-law fantastically (‘Sit down, or you’ll have veins like ravines’) She was forced many years ago to give up her work and dreams due to the demands of her three year old son. Her life was further constricted when he took up sports clubs and activities, leaving her no space for her own passions, swimming and coaching, replacing them with dedicated cookie-baking and other such respectable pursuits. She gave up her life to allow her son to have his, and now he is gone. Her final hope, the grandchild she had only just found out could be on its way, is also gone. She feels her life was wasted, and she has nothing to show for it. Heather Williams skillfully led us to see the woman beneath, the one who has lost not only her son, but hopes of a grandson, and ends bravely facing her new life ready to start again.
Mona knew that she wasn’t ready for a child, wasn’t stable, wasn’t wanting one. Her partner’s reaction showed her that he might not be the person she would want to have one with. Despite the emotional blackmail he subjected her to, which has led to the difficult conversation that Susan and Mona are having, she carries on and asserts control over her own body and future, aware that ultimately it is her and only her that will fully suffer the consequences on her life, sport and career if she has this child. Janet Etuk plays her, and her warmth, humour, desire for life and risk and control over her body are shown well.
The free-living, free-running Mona and the conventional, cookie-baking control-freak Susan start as diametric opposites but over the course of the play their similarities become apparent: their love of their sports and desire to be the best, their suffering as the result of child loss and child birth, chosen or otherwise, their wish for more than mediocrity.
There are some beautiful moments of comedy in this piece: I loved Mona’s comparison of raisins to the bits of dried snot you get when you’ve been on the Tube in London, the welcoming cactus in the porch. Overall though, it is heart-wrenching, although at the same time heart-warming in the way that the women are drawn together by their different experiences and their found understanding. I did cry a little at the end.
This play was written by Sabrina Mahfouz and directed by Nel Crouch, and they really have made something beautiful with this. Definitely one to watch, but do be aware that if (like me) you have experienced the end of a pregnancy, by choice or by chance, that you might find parts of this very emotionally charged.
The Love I Feel is Red shows at Zion Community Centre until 7th May. Tickets are available from TFT website
Review by Gin Gould
Image by Lolostock/Dani Mayes, with thanks