Ivy Review, Alba Writes
Spid theatre/Southwark Playhouse
Helena Thompson, the Artistic Director of SPID theatre has written a number of highly acclaimed plays, as well as short films. Namely; Sixteen, Childsplay and Arthur’s world. Her pieces consistently transport the audience to new and unexpected worlds. That’s why, on a cold December night last year, I ventured down the steps of a disused pub in South-East London to experience her most recent production, Ivy.
Once we were guided down into the basement of the pub, we faced a room with low ceilings and bare white walls, with plants and gardening tools scattered around. The action began immediately when a young woman,Chloe (Charlotte Salkind) entered, threatening and attacking the frail, elderly woman in the room, Ivy. She wanted money. Ivy claimed not to have any, which we later found out wasn’t true.
Due to this being a site-specific piece of theatre (meaning that the audience moved around with the characters in the performance space rather than having their own specific seating area), the audience was fully integrated into the action which added immediacy and suspense to the story.
Chloe, small in statue, was fierce in her role, and very convincing. At the start of the play, she threatened the old woman by holding a crowbar to her throat. Suddenly an external, invisible force in the room reacted, and threw her to the ground. Then, much like the Ivy which twisted and wove along the walls, the relationship grew, writhed, contorted and flourished between the two women.
They drank tea, talked plants, discussed Chloe’s subservience to her “friends” who were screaming outside, asking her to get the money from Ivy. The sharp and engaging dialogue between Chloe and Ivy (Leda Hodgson) carried the play. Both actresses were very apt at their roles, Salkind acting the convincingly aggressive and misguided city kid, with a lot of swearing and sentences such as “I knew you was a witch”. The elderly woman, who displayed frailty at the start, proved that she had a lot of internal, personal strength and courage. She guided Chloe through this in their conversations -talking her through the ability she had to impact on her “Boss” who she didn’t like, as well as the power that she had to change her life. During their interaction, the Ivy plant in the old woman’s house came to life, a fire also ensued, and the two women danced freely and energetically.
There was a lot of symbolism in the play. Amongst this was the juxtaposition of the ages of the women. Chloe brought physical strength, brazen courage and an element of risk to the story, whereas Ivy, despite being elderly and physically weaker, demonstrated a great amount of courage and wisdom which eventually prevailed.
The introduction of herbal tea brings an element of drug use to the narrative, and this seems to be explored in an intricate way through the use of riddles spoken throughout. This play
seemed to be about exploring ideas, characters and points for further discussion in a subtle, yet powerful way.
The narrative of the play was not so straight-forward, and this play was enigmatic in many ways. But what it lacked in clarity and narrative content, it made up for in poetic moments and sharp dialogue. The audience had to frequently move around to see what was happening. The mood and the energy of the piece constantly changed. The two characters rarely stayed in the same spot for very long which forced more active engagement with the piece which would have been less possible within a traditional seated audience format. In a world full of short-attention-span-media this is something that is very much necessary on a Friday night after a long week for a lot of people! It would be easy to overlook this play without delving deeper into the meaning, however, it’s the deeper meaning which needs to be acknowledged in order for the play to be fully appreciated.
Helen’s production of Ivy was a poetically rich, and fiercely-acted performance, resulting in gripping and emotive story, leaving the audience wanting more, and questioning the ideas of youth, and wisdom, city-living, and the potency of unseen external forces in our lives amongst other things.