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Theatre Review Hope springs eternal in affecting drama of small-town lives

Circle Mirror Transformation
HOME, Manchester

ONCE a week for six weeks, five lonely people turn up at the local community hall in a small town in Vermont for drama classes and, over time, the workshops become more therapeutic as each of the characters begins to reveal their past, grapple with their present and work towards a new beginning to their lives.

I can hear the groans rising on a tide of despair at that synopsis, but they would be misplaced. This is a beautifully crafted play that appears to have slipped effortlessly from the pen of the great US playwright Annie Baker.

The pitfalls in such a drama are many and dangerous. At best, it can be pretentious nonsense, at worst, cringeworthy sophistry.

Not so with Baker's play, whose strength lies in her characters. The newly divorced yet still grieving Schulz is desperate for some direction in his life, while Teresa, newly arrived in the small town, has escaped from an abusive relationship. Young schoolgirl Lauren just wants someone to notice her and James, the oldest member of the group, wallows in his smartness yet is fearful of getting old.

The ringmistress controlling events is Marty (the excellent Amelia Bullmore), an old hippy with her own demons smouldering deep within her.

Baker’s skill is to make us really root for this diverse bunch of people. Their only claim to fame is that they are ordinary. They're the sort of people you will meet every day, with their worries and concerns and frailties and above all their hopes for just a little bit of happiness. But at no time does Baker belittle or pour scorn on their lives.

In this celebration of “ordinary” lives, nothing profound is said, nothing earth-shattering is revealed. We merely peek through a window into their existence and, by the time the lights fade, we're filled with hope that each one of them manages to find their small piece of happiness.

This understated and loving play reminds us, in a world where sniping and ridicule is rife, that most people are in fact decent and kind.

Runs until March 17, box office:



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