Chittenden’s writing delivers a world of unique voices

By Sam Chittenden

Different Theatre

Music by Simon Scardanelli, performed live by the cast, accompanied by Judey Bignell

Co-directed by Sam Chittenden and Katie Turner-Halliday (of Heifer productions)

Design by Delphine Du Barry

New Writing South Best New Play Award 2019 Shortlist

We’re at Sweet@The Mayo, a lush private garden, all little spaces and secret discoveries, the setting for this new piece from Sam Chittenden, her third production at this year’s Brighton Fringe.

It wasn’t always a garden – it’s on the site of the drying fields of the Mayo laundry, where generations of Brighton women lived out their working lives and shared the reality of their private lives, too. True stories of the 1950 smallpox outbreak and the first women’s mental health hospital play out here, interwoven together with songs and fictional tales of lives lived by women in the 1880s, 1900s, 20s, 50s, 70s, 90s and now.

Each actor is clad to her time, and we gradually notice they’re all subtly wearing Suffragette purple and green. This is real, raw, visceral stuff – love and friendship, childbirth and death, brutality and solidarity. Men don’t come off too well here – all drinkers, thumpers, users and controllers. There’s often a lack of love, attraction and fun when it comes to their stories of the men in their lives.

Women are in the majority today, and it’s clear the stories are resonating around the audience – the play touches on realities we may share, regardless of our time or age. Characters each have their unique voices; cultured and precise gender nonconformity (Abi McLoughlin as Doctor Helen Boyle), gutsy 50s matriarch (Jenny Rowe as Dot), committed young Suffragette (Rebecca Jones as Meg), wounded but unbeaten abuse survivor (Cerys Knighton as Ruby), menopause wisdom and humour (Kerri Hedley-Cheney sparking the laughs as Juliet), thoroughly modern explorer revealing these extraordinary ordinary tales (Chelsea Newton Mountney as Tasha) and deep warmth and raw truth (Sharon Drain as Millicent).

Chittenden’s writing delivers a world of unique voices for each actor to bring to life, in Du Barry’s billowing white setting of linen and cotton in the green, effortlessly conjuring up the world the women knew so well.

This is a terrific venue, shared with the local wildlife. It’s a joy to know I can live in a city for decades and still find places and stories new to me. Through the trees to the horizon, it’s so right that you can just see what was once Brighton’s workhouse, the shadow of what could have happened if you didn’t have the fortune to secure this heavy, taxing work. A fascinating experience, and the perfect venue. Come early to explore – be aware that there are twisting paths and different levels to negotiate as you come in, and the piece has a promenade element so you’ll stand, or sit on the grass. And remember to check out the shed, too; an art installation in its own way.

Philippa Hammond

Sweet@TheMayo 25-27 May