Theatre Review: The Big ‘A’ Trilogy by Robert Windsor
I first met Robert Windsor a few years back at Clouds House, a residential treatment centre for addiction nestled in the verdant woods of Wiltshire. In my role as a Trustee of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, I’d been asked to watch a play he’d written called, ‘Off Her Facebook!‘.
Rob is a night nurse at Clouds, probably one of the country’s most famous addiction centres and it has had some pretty infamous temporary residents; Robbie Williams openly talks about his time there, getting his life back on track.
I assumed what Robert Windsor didn’t know about the fragile human condition and addiction, could probably be written on the back of a postage stamp. Having recently seen the performance of The Big ‘A’ Trilogy at the Studio Theatre, Salisbury, which begins with ‘Off Her Facebook!‘ rolls into ’Damaged Goods‘ and concludes with ‘Gridluck‘, it seems I was bang on the money.
‘Off Her Facebook!
Mark James sent shivers down my spine the first time I saw him play the male lead of Ed. All he’s done since then is crawl deeper under the skin of this angry, enigmatic character. His portrayal of a volatile addicted loving father rooted me to the spot at times and the dance scene gave the hot tears I had stored in my ducts a perfect opportunity to burn a path down my cheeks.
Alongside Suzanne Nicola Wilson who played Laura, there was a believable synergy and her diminutive form delivered such a weighty performance of a girl enveloped by peer pressure, the usual teenage computer based pastimes and binge drinking.
She played a suitably stroppy, convincing adolescent but I could see her hankering for a normal family life through her purported tough street exterior. The supporting role of her mother Kate, played with shining excellence by Charlie Greenwood, was outstanding. Having seen the play twice before with a different actress, I felt there were times when it seemed the words had only ever been written for her to deliver.
Charlie packed optimism and perhaps selective blindness into a genuinely believable performance and James Bradwell packed out a relatively minor but passionate and emotional role, playing Tim, her youngest son; so completed this dysfunctional family unit.
The tale was simple, the pace was swift, yet during the moments of the play specifically designed to let you draw breath and ponder, it felt as though a whole childhoods worth of memories had been filed in your mind’s hard drive.
Rob’s clever use of imagery and music top and tail a magnificently powerful piece, with far too many truths laced silently in between the lines.
Suffice it to say, there was an evocative entanglement of emotions charging through me as the cast of five tackled teenage miscommunication and homelessness in an incredibly thought provoking manner.
Jamie, played by James Bradwell, stood on the edge of suicide, quite literally and brought a sobering reality to a highly taboo subject. Charlie Greenwood’s ethereal appearance as Katherine left me wondering precisely what she was, that’s not a criticism incidentally, she nailed the role to the cliff perfectly.
The opening of the play brought together a James Kelly and Elizabeth Coyle-Camp as the police detective and Mrs Kendall and their comedic timing wrapped around natural humour in a dire situation was wholly satisfying. Suzanne opened a new channel playing Lucy, the lead female who knew far too much for her tender years and I felt she handled the loaded issue of heavy drug taking with a horrifying convincing ease.
Again, strong deliveries, incredibly loaded topics and yet seemingly normal family set ups, leaving me feeling it could happen to anyone.
I’m not sure why this segment of the trilogy got under my skin in the way it did, but I suspect it was probably due to James Kelly’s incredible performance of Billy, the central focus of the piece.
I had to keep my wits about me during this piece. It brought all the members of the other plays together in a rather loaded portrayal of adrenalin addiction. James absolutely sucked me into his journey as a pimp, a disillusioned son and an utter bastard of a character, adding layers of almost likeable complexity to the role that jarred with all you knew of him. He is a thoroughly convincing actor and clearly has theatre and probably far more mapped out waiting for him to step into the shoes of whoever he wants to animate; an outstanding performer.
Other striking impressions were made by Suzanne Nicola Wilson playing Lucy, the lead female who found herself in the most dire situation and she took on the challenge of playing to screen projections of other characters and pulled it off with bells on. Her interactions with James Bradwell as Jamie were engaging and frighteningly credible.
Charlie Greenwood made her third appearance as Katherine, a soul that ties the three plays together beautifully, but if you only had an opportunity to see them singularly, you would certainly not be disappointed. She ties up ends, she pulls the strands of three stories of desperation, sadness, addiction, loss, confusion and inability to communicate, so wonderfully well together, you wish you knew the ending of ‘Gridluck’ and could watch the previous two plays with a fresh perspective; I was left with a Sixth Sense feeling and whilst it was a reasonably long haul watching three performances back to back, it was timed to perfection by Rob and Janey Dillon, the stage manager.
The entire cast blasted three addictive topics to the edge of the cliff and made the audience stand on the precipice with them.
Outstanding Mr Windsor, outstanding.
Author, Broadcaster, Performance Poet
Rob and the cast are available to help your school or organisation discuss all of the topics raised in workshops that can be put on after the performances.
Having watched ‘Off Her Facebook!’ be put on in a school for kids on the edge of exclusion and observed them become enraptured by the subject matter, I would say it is suitable for the hardest of audiences. It will leave them with strong impressions of what can go wrong if you are stupid enough to let it and above all, it delivers a powerful message of hope for the services that are available out there if your soul has been seduced by unsavoury happenstance.