- June 12, 2021
There are sometimes moments in the Fringe where the experience surpasses ones expectations, way surpasses even though you have heard a little in advance and those expectations are already high. Sam Chittenden and Simon Scardanelli have done just that in this piece of modern musical theatre that more than deserves to be seen by a very wide audience and, dare I say it, be transferred to London.
The concept is fairly complex but never contrived. It weaves the stories of seven women from seven generations who live and work in Roundhill, the laundry area of the once town of Brighton. Each character has a poignant story to tell, stories of sadness, oppression, emancipation, courage and self realisation. Threads interlock, small pox mirrored by COVID, suffragettes with the wonderful women of Greenham Common, unmarried mothers and modern single motherhood as a right and matter of choice, mental illness and menopause and the recognition of women’s needs being recognised by a pioneering female GP and her female lover… it may sound like a huge canvas to fill but theatre maker Sam Chittenden does it with elegance and power.
The songs are vital too, never a gratuitous nod to lightening the content but each and every one advancing or colouring the narrative. And these are good songs too, beautifully constructed and played and some hours later still running around in my head, surely a good sign of fine writing.
The cast are equally accomplished, seven brilliantly balanced voices savouring the lyrics and the harmonies to create a spine tingling musical soundscape that whilst having its roots in the folk tradition manages to feel utterly contemporary.
Millicent, played by Sharon Drain, is the earliest character, the laundry woman at the heart of Roundhill and she portrays the work-worn woman with tenderness that comes to the fore when she sings beautifully to a new born child, her voice deep and moving. Dr Helen Boyle is played by Judy Bignell with elegance and strength and once again a fine voice. Anna Chloe Moorey is the powerful young suffragette, full of youthful vigour and equipped with some soaring lungs too. Rosa Samuels plays the young woman running away from an abusive and violent partner to find a new and better life and the pain suffered is finely portrayed. She too has a great voice but also adds to the musical whole with beautifully scored flute playing. Jack Cryer is Juliet, a woman mid-menopause who deftly points out that her situation is not just something that happens in what might be described as traditionally working class environments but to all women – ALL!
Dot is the manageress of the Tivoli Laundry, one at the heart of the 1950/51 small pox outbreak, a solid woman who is the backbone of her circumstances and the heart in many ways of this production. Amy Sutton does this role proud, a bold and in some ways brassy portrait but at the same time tender, and her fine voice stays totally in character from script to song.
Tasha is the linking thread, the young woman returning to the family home and in sorting through her dead mother’s effects discovers these histories. Holly Ray, like all the cast, has a superb voice, but it is in her growth as a person that she displays here her real skill as an actor.
Praise too for Simon Scardanelli, composer but also leader of the live music, some of which is played by the cast, and Ben Alexander on cello. Praise too for a production that does not hand its qualities on enhanced electronic sound, this performance is totally acoustic and unplugged.
Clean is a triumph in every sense and even working in a space that at times might try to swallow the sounds and with some technical lighting difficulties still emerged as a genuinely five star performance, one that I look forward to seeing again.
One Church, Brighton Fringe 2021