Whilst training at drama school all performers undertake something called ‘Animal Studies’ where they learn to mimic those who have different motivations to humans. Generally, this is a skill which is then put in the memory bank and never really used again – but for one actress appearing in Precious Little at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, it has proved very useful indeed, as she gets to inhabit a Gorilla during every performance.
The performers were excellent, and the writing was exquisite.
Precious Little is a wonderful play by Madeleine George who has won various awards for her plays in the United States but is little known here in the UK. Precious Little tells the story of Brodie, a linguistics expert, who discovers that there are complications with the baby she is carrying. Her girlfriend takes her to the zoo and there she meets a Gorilla with whom she discovers a fascinating connection.
It is, sadly, a rarity for a play to be performed by just three women with excellent, fully fleshed out characters but this is truly what Precious Little is. There are many characters played by the three women but they all easily distinguishable from one another, and all are very real.
Brodie is played by Jenny Delisle. Jenny really gets to grips with her complexities and difficult choices that Brodie has to make. We understand every emotion, motive and desire she is feeling. Her passive aggressiveness towards her clinic doctor is particularly well displayed. Her scenes where she is mesmerised by the ape in the zoo are great to watch as we witness Brodie coming to conclusions within her own mind entirely without dialogue. It was a terrific performance.
Jessica Kinsey has her work cut out for her playing a multitude of characters. In the opening scene she plays a gaggle of tourists and schoolkids at the zoo, all by herself and yet she manages to make this work incredibly well. It is her more developed characters, however, where Jessica really shines. As the clinic doctor she is able to portray a confident woman, tested by a difficult client, and finding herself unsure how to proceed along her usual lines. As Cleva’s daughter she is obnoxious but delivers a powerful moment later in the play and reveals a hidden depth. As Brodie’s girlfriend she is young and passionate but has no idea how to deal with Brodie’s news. In every role she stands out and draws our attention. The smallest difference in the Jessica delivers a line makes each character easily distinguishable from the next. Jessica was an absolute joy to watch in every scene.
The trio is rounded off by Deborah Maclaren. Deborah gets the delightful opportunity to show her portrayal of the ape and I am pleased to say she nails it. She lumbers around her enclosure in accurate detail as one of our ancestors. The writer has not made it easy for her either as she must also, at points, talk to the audience, whilst not coming out of character as the gorilla. It was a masterclass performance, yet the other characters Deborah gets to play were equally well developed. As Cleva, Deborah says very little but each word she delivers was from the heart. We grew to love Cleva throughout the play although we barely knew her. This was due to great acting from all three performers, good direction, and great writing.
Kate Bannister (Artistic Director of the Brockley Jack Theatre) has directed this piece and has done so extremely well. Making the decision to portray the scenes at the zoo via two separate angles at once worked extremely well. It added to the emotional depth of each side of the cage. Knowing when to leave a character in stage with just their thoughts is important for any director and Kate was not afraid of silence. There were times where she would just let the character be on stage with no dialogue and it was wonderful to be given the opportunity to witness their heartache and confusion as they made difficult choices.
Karl Swinyard’s set was very well designed. The Gorilla enclosure with logs and a platform looked like it had truly arrived straight from London zoo. Ben Jacobs did wonderful work with his lighting too. The additional strips used for the scenes in the clinic really helped to add a harshness and clinical feel which was not present in the other scenes. Julian Starr did the sound composition but also composed a lot of the music in the play. The added tense music to the clinic scene bought a level of tension that had not been present in the jaunty music we had heard thus far. Martin Robinson’s costume design was spot on. Cleva particularly stood out for me. But Martin’s job was extra difficult due to the constant switching of roles that Jessica played. Jessica would usually just change her coat tie her hair differently, while facing the audience and that would be all that was needed. Simple but very effective.
Precious Little was my first ever trip to the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, but I do not think I could have had a better experience. This has made me want to go time and time again, if all their plays are this well selected and staged. The performers were excellent, and the writing was exquisite. I encourage everyone to go and see this show is you want to see female writers, directors, and actors at the top of their game.