The Trunk

The closed trunk planted on stage instantly recalls the story of Pandora’s Box and, indeed, this is the tale that is told over loudspeaker at the beginning of Max Dickins’ one-man show. This framing device is a nice touch, causing us to consider whether closed lids are sometimes better left unopened, and ultimately leaving us glad that the protagonist of this funny and tender performance decided imitate Pandora. Based on real life events, Dickins narrates and performs the tale of a temp, working in a coroner’s office, who discovers a trunk in the house of an elderly lady who has died, un-noticed and seemingly un-mourned. Along with the trunk is a letter to someone named William, apparently the woman’s son, long ago given up for adoption. Inside the trunk is the debris of life: photos, letters, clothes, and a mystery that the protagonist – encouraged by his raucous granddad, brilliantly characterised – sets out to solve.

A hilarious, sad and pensive meditation on loneliness and remembrance.

Dickins vividly enacts characters from the story with sympathy and wry amusement. His style of performance is that of a dad performing a picture book to a child, a sweet and innocent approach to bringing characters and their quirks to life. Meanwhile, a slideshow of photographs lends the play a documentary feel, sharpening its emotional sting.

The real poignancy of this show is that it is intimately personal at the same time as being hugely identifiable. The combing over of a woman’s story, the reading out of love letters and description of her clothes feels almost invasive, so keenly does it probe the anatomy of a single life. Yet eavesdropping on fellow audience members after the show revealed a general recollection of grandparents and family histories, proving that its gentle glances at dementia, ageing, loneliness and loss are universally touching. The woman next to me, who’d spent the entire show laughing gustily, ended it sobbing.

The play occasionally veers towards the saccharine, and there are moments that are over-consciously dramatised to the extent that they feel a little false. However, Dickins’ earnestness and humour just about pull it together and make this a hilarious, sad and pensive meditation on loneliness and remembrance. 

Reviews by Sibylla Archdale Kalid

Underbelly, George Square

The Trunk

★★★★
C venues - C nova

Fingertips

★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

An elderly woman is found dead in a council house. Undiscovered for a month. On the dressing table in her bedroom is an envelope addressed to William. A son she’d clearly once given up for adoption. Her house is bizarrely empty, save for a trunk full of antique ephemera hidden away in the loft. I have to use its contents to solve the riddle of this lonely woman’s life. And in doing so find William, to give him the letter. A moving, funny show about how and why we remember.