Finding Libby story follows sixty-something-year-old Pauline as she embarks on a nautical holiday along the canals of England. After living a refined and self-conscious life revolving around placating others, this trip is essentially an awakening for Pauline. It’s the first holiday she has ever been on, she is meeting new people, learning that she has a knack for handling the lock gates and even puts on a tiny bit of makeup.
It is certainly slow, both in delivery and plot development. While some may find this simply monotonous, others will find Pauline so subtle and endearing that the pace will not offend. The comedy is light, sweet and incredibly British, as Pauline takes you through all the motions of the faffing English middle-aged traveller, clearly concerned with doing the ‘respectable thing’. The plot unfolds as the route changes spontaneously and ends up taking Pauline to the town in which she grew up, unlocking gates of the past she has not dwelled upon in some time. The history of Pauline’s overly respectable parents and their tragic interference in her life is unfolded skilfully, with a light joke never too far away.
Written by and starring Kate Saffin, Finding Libby demonstrates subtle writing and even subtler acting. It not only tells a story how stories should be told, but reiterates how important it is to tell stories and not ‘try to forget’ about and suppress them, as Pauline’s parents would have her do. The relief in confronting her past and telling us about it is clearly troublesome but ultimately freeing for Pauline. Plus it makes for fantastic viewing.
There is a great pressure on new writing to be topical, and it is refreshing to be reminded of the fact that old stories remain impactful for as long as there are people around still affected by them, perhaps for even longer. One of the cruise travellers, Eileen, remarks that ‘The sixties were only swinging on the surface’, and the play indeed makes criticisms of this era, exposing its dangerous juxtaposition of free sex and angry, tyrannical parents. What happened in the sixties is not an irrelevant topic – especially in the hands of Saffin, it’s riveting.
Finding Libby is best described as a wonderfully nuanced one-woman play with comic elements, rather than, as the program states, ‘A comedy without sentimentality’. While it is funny and unsentimental, the show’s real charm lies in its skilful presentation and dissection of Pauline’s character and her struggle to follow her heart while keeping in line with the times and maintaining family support - a struggle which many twentieth century women certainly faced. Unpretentious, down-to-earth and funny, Pauline’s plight can be readily felt by audiences, and it is certainly worth finding your way to Assembly Hall for Finding Libby, and watching as narrative gates are unlocked with the utmost skill and grace.