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“Refreshingly ambiguous” – Review of Wishbone

Anya Biletsky reviews this play which intimately explores a relationship marked by ambivalent emotions.

It would be most people’s worst nightmare to break up with a partner only to immediately find out that they are bound to seven days of each other’s company in the same apartment. It is in these very circumstances that Ti and Ro, the protagonists of Peach Productions’ Wishbone, written by Coco Cottam and performed at the Burton Taylor Studio in sixth week, suddenly find themselves, when they test positive for COVID-19 hours after Ro breaks up with Ti. Giving the audience a glimpse into seven days with Ti and Ro, Wishbone offers an insightful and tender portrayal of the complicated emotions tied up in a relationship which is far from perfect, but too good to lose, and what happens when a couple is forced to confront these feelings together.

The play opens with Ti (Rosa Calcraft) and Ro (Kaitlin Horton-Samuel), who are dressed in flowing skirts and glittering shirts, moving to music on a stage shimmering in dark blue light. An interpretative dance sequence sees them coming together and splitting apart again, by turns intimate and hostile, delicate and violent, so that it is unclear as to the nature of the relationship of the two flitting figures; an image which prescores the play’s exploration of the changing tides of the characters’ emotions. The music accompanying the dancing is Sound Designer Julia Males’ remix of a classic Schellenberger piece with the introduction to WTC by contemporary alternative trio Unloved; its jolting beat complements the dancers’ alternately abrupt and fluid movements. There is something electric in this opening, appropriate to the electricity we come to discover still fizzles between the two, no matter how much they may try to deny it.

Cottam’s original script is as engaging as it is honest. Arguments and simmering anger are balanced with intimate dialogues, and conversations about apparently mundane topics like a chicken sandwich are compellingly humorous. Lydia Free’s direction subtly brings out the complexities of the characters’ feelings of resentment, nostalgia, love, and anger, and draws out the script’s most poignant moments, fusing Cottam’s lyrical writing with the magic of the visual and auditory components of the play. However, as dynamic as the play is, it remains grounded in truth – as an audience, we felt that we were being given a privileged look into the lives and conversations of a real (ex-) couple.

This was certainly aided by the onstage chemistry between Horton-Samuel and Calcraft, which was some of the best I have seen in student theatre. The actors bounced off each other, meeting energy with energy, making their interactions wholly entertaining to watch.  Horton-Samuel’s Ro is down-to-earth, straight-forward and resolute, but Ti is clearly her weak spot. Calcraft makes for a bubbly Ti, and believably delivers her lines with notes of humour and exasperation.

In days 1 to 3, indicated at the beginning of each scene by text projected onto the back wall, we witness why the two might be crushingly incompatible, a request to spread some jam on bread quickly escalating into a row. Many of their exchanges are in raised tones, Calcraft and Samuel-Horton convincingly portraying the catharsis of finally being able to express months of pent-up frustration. Equally, in days 4 to 6, we witness why the two work so well together. In a lengthy phone conversation, Ro explains her feelings about Ti, saying how she is experiencing ‘the ache’ about their break-up – but she emphatically reiterates that ‘it’s not love’. We doubt this, as we see an increase in their physical proximity as the play progresses, and they transform from being aloof with one another to being more tender and intimate.

By Day 6, it seems like they might almost choose to stay together after all, snuggling in bed, laughing, and remembering happy times, like their first giggly meeting at a life-drawing class. It is heart-warming to see. The delicate pink and white tapestry suspended on the back wall of Izzy Kori’s set softly underscores the tenderness and beauty which, despite everything, is at the core of Ti and Ro’s relationship. At the end of Day 6, Ro asks, ‘what happens tomorrow? What happens to us?’, a nod to their life after their period of compulsory confinement ends. The audience is wondering the same thing, but all Ti replies is ‘I don’t know’.

Wishbone’s ending is refreshingly ambiguous. Whether Ti and Ro end up staying together or not is unclear – it could genuinely go either way, as the play has so successfully shown. The symbol of the wishbone serves to underline this sense of the uncertainty about their future; Ti and the audience both are keen to know what it is that Ro wished for with the wishbone earlier in the play, and what it could mean for her and Ti’s relationship. As Peach Productions’ first show, Wishbone was a sold-out success – and with good reason. The introspective script, paired with strong and nuanced performances from the two actors and suitably graceful visual and auditory elements rendered the play a beautifully crafted piece of theatre.

Image Credit: Coco Cottam

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