If you have missed theatre during the pandemic, you will find STEAM is worth the wait.
Steam opens with a silent tug of war between mother and daughter. The play is an intimate portrayal of family life, enhanced by the setting at Brighton Little Theatre (BLT) which oozes familiarity, charm and sophistication.
Ray, shortened for Rachel, is a qualified nurse and carer to her terminally ill mother. Kate Purnell acts as Ray in a BLT debut, offering the audience a masterful range of emotions that make us both laugh and cry in turn. Her sister, Sylvia, performed by Ellie Mason, plays a musician, arrives from a glittering career in Paris to disturb the peace. Ray asks herself whether her sister’s visit is motivated by duty or is it an act of love?
Suffused with emotion from the outset, age old family dynamics play out between the absent daughter and the one who never left home in this intimate family drama. Indifference, not anger, is the opposite of love and this play overflows with feeling – rage, bitterness, resentment and compassion. It’s about belonging or not belonging, family, life, loss, grief and the pain of letting go.
As the family gather around the dinner table, Anya who is ‘mother’, acted by Abigail Smith, offers us moments of self-deprecating humour. In spite of her illness, she is fully herself.
There is a fourth character in Ella Turk-Thompson’s masterly play – Callum acted by Joseph Bentley, a slightly diffident, yet loyal, Englishman. Both loved and hated, he supports Ray through the storm and effortlessly introduces sexual tension and humour to the drama.
STEAM is a story of love and loss, resilience, endings and the struggle to carry on. Each daughter has to battle grief and triumph over it. Ms Turk-Thompson said: “It’s about family and when you can’t hold onto them.”
Physical theatre recurs throughout, offering the audience the chance to reflect. For a moment, Ray stops being a nurse and becomes a REAL woman again. In this moment the audience can empathise with her situation of being the sacrificial carer. All three of the women, experience moments of heightened emotion and they portray this effectively through dance. Dialogue throughout the play is excellent, as is casting, the script, direction and choreography.
Within minutes, we are immersed in the lives of Ray and Sylvia, observing first-hand the way only siblings really can push you to your limits.
STEAM had me totally absorbed from the start, I identified with the emotions and it caused me to reflect on my own family relationships. The play is both provocative and soothing, broaching several difficult subjects head on with humility.
I thoroughly recommend STEAM and will look out for further work by Ella Turk-Thompson.
**** Four Stars
You can read the lowdown from Fringe Review here but beware, there are spoilers.