Gavin Crippin’s “Cupcakes and Carousels” is a psychological drama about how abuse and mental illness can affect our old and new relationships. The Manchester-based Rebours theatre company brings to the London stage the story of two dysfunctional married couples in a seaside town in the Northwest of England.
The play opens with Ben ( Paul Irwin), who addresses the audience directly giving a monologue on appearances and how things (and people) do not always turn out the way you think. Enter his fresh-faced and bubbly wife Anna (Eve Burley) who sets off the first little domestic row with Ben on where to put the kettle. They have just moved back to Ben’s old home town and into his grandmother’s house. Domestic bliss? Not really. From the outset you can feel something is not quite right here and when Ben daydreams of his children playing out in the garden Anna starts to get upset immediately changing the subject. From here we cut to an earlier scene where Anna is talking with her Doctor (Gary Hayden) about a recent operation and things become more mysterious when he asks if she has told Ben about her past, to which she replies “Why would I ruin the fairy tale with reality?” Clearly this woman is not telling her new husband the whole story.
Meanwhile, we have another dissatisfied couple Sally ( Geri Sharrock) Ben’s childhood friend and her abusive shady husband Micky (Matthew Hattersley). Sally feels locked down in this violent partnership with Micky and when Ben comes back to town she dreams of escaping with him to a better place. Will she be able to escape with Ben? Will Anna reveal who she really is ? Sadly, these troublesome relationships do not work themselves out and it won’t be happily ever after for these newly-weds.
The play progresses in a non-linear fashion and the set is quite minimal with the Black Box Theatre upstairs at the Lion and Unicorn serving as a backdrop. In order to conjure up that seaside feeling sounds of seagulls and waves crashing are interspersed between scene changes.
The production fell a bit flat for me at times partially due to my disbelief in some of the relationships on stage as well as the sense of prevailing sombreness towards the end which culminates in Anna saying that “life’s not all cupcakes and carousels”. The idea of the light at the end of the tunnel which Sally eludes to in an earlier speech, seems completely lost by the end and it left me feeling a bit , well, down. On the other hand, attending a play which tackles our perceptions of people versus the reality of who they really are is challenging and refreshing to see on a Saturday night. I did think Eve Burley’s portrayal of Anna as a bipolar damaged woman was spot on and the energy she gave was consistent throughout.
The Giant Olive Theatre Company at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town are always proposing exciting new productions and their programme for 2012 / 2013 is definitely worth checking out.