Saturday, 2 May 2009

Queen Bee - The Customs House, South Shields

Queen Bee by Margaret Wilkinson
Director: Wils Wilson
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The second play to be produced by the North East Theatre Consortium, ‘Queen Bee’, is a contemporary gothic ghost story with a psychological twist.

Ruth (Karen Traynor), a psychiatric nurse, arrives at an
isolated Northumberland house to take up a position as live-in carer of Angel (Rachel Donovan), an agoraphobic, despite the protestations of the housekeeper, Eusapia (Joanna Holden).

What seems like an easy ride for Ruth soon turns into a chilling experience when the women are threatened by a sinister figure lurking outside. They lock themselves indoors and become increasingly suspicious of one another as they each compete to become Queen Bee.

Margaret Wilkinson’s enjoyably bizarre play blends black humour, suspense and farce in such a way that you are never quite sure whether she wants the audience to take the piece seriously or not. The script is punchy and crackles along at a pace that ensures the momentum is kept up while also allowing the audience to follow the complex plot twists and turns.

The trio of actresses turn out performances that are compelling and entertaining to watch and there are many great comedy moments that are perfectly executed.

Joanna Holden proves herself to be a great character actress as she takes Eusapia almost to the verge of caricature, though never losing credibility. Rachel Donovan brilliantly captures Angel’s childlike vulnerability and Karen Traynor is equally effective as the no-nonsense nurse.

Imogen Cloet has designed a set that effectively represents the neglected and dilapidated old house, which is littered with ramshackle furniture and piles of dusty old books. Sound designer John Alder uses only a double bass to create each and every sound effect, ranging from a slamming door to a swarm of angry bees.

‘Queen Bee’ is a piece of theatre that could easily be described by many different adjectives including unconventional, zany, surreal, chilling and tense. The way in which it blurs the distinguishing lines of conventional genres may not be to everyone’s taste, but in terms of entertainment value it is a bold experiment that pays off with dividends.
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