This play tells the story of the life of its central character, Peggy, as she looks back over the unfolding events of her youth. Although old and now considered mentally incapacitated, she recalls the idyll of her youth growing up before the outbreak of World War II. With the war, however, begins a chain of events that leave her heartbroken and desperate as she falls for the amorous advances of her employer at the local store. Based on Agnes Owens’ classic novel, this young cast from CLFS bring the story to life for the first time on stage. Respectfully adapted by director Phil Tong, this is gritty stuff for a young cast to handle. But handle it they do, often with great aplomb.
The compact stage is used to great effect to tell a tale of two times. The older Peggy and those around her in the present day share the stage seamlessly with her younger self and her contemporaries. Thus, her story unfolds through flashback scenes while she watches on. Music enhances the narrative at key points, making the death of someone close to Peggy all the more tragic. Most of the cast employ Scottish accents throughout, with general success. It is always a challenge for young actors to play older-aged individuals convincingly and this was at times a test for the audience, given the absence of any attempt to age them through makeup. Other minor teething issues in this opening performance included a few audible bumps and clunks off stage and one of the best comedy pregnancy bumps I’ve ever seen (beautifully flattened by the actress as she sat herself down!). But these were minor issues given the quality of some of the performances. James Cole Enzen plays the eponymous Willie Roper with deftness beyond his years. The charm with which he disarms Peggy is edged with a creepiness that bodes ill for the future of the relationship he so clearly wishes to develop. Similarly, Claire Mengham plays Peggy’s mother with utter conviction. Her knowing remonstrations towards her daughter give her character a believability and maternal quality that make her utterly relatable. These talents are particularly evident in a four-handed scene between Peggy, her mother, Willie, and his wife, during which the tensions between all those involved were edgily conveyed.
This play does not pull its punches. Unwanted pregnancy, mental health issues, bereavement, and the seedy seduction of a minor are amongst the less palatable topics dealt with. This fine cast of young actors cope with these difficult issues confidently. Definitely worth a visit during its short run to see some future stars of the Fringe learning their trade.