Studio Theatre Studio Theatre, Salisbury Philip & Julie McStraw 2 October 2023
The admirable Studio Theatre in Salisbury continues to enhance its reputation for making first rate amateur theatre with its latest thought-provoking offering of Last Summer At Bluefish Cove by celebrated American playwright, Jane Chambers. First performed in New York in 1980, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove broke new ground by being the first mainstream play to deal with the, then taboo, subject of lesbian relationships at a time when homophobia was commonplace.
Set in the 1980s, the play concerns the enduring friendships and intriguing life stories of seven lesbian women: Lil, Dr Kitty, Annie, Rita, Rae, Sue, and Donna. They spend their annual holidays at Bluefish Cove, an idyllic haven where gay women can be free of the hostilities and conflict they daily encounter because of their sexuality. The holiday is disrupted by unwitting Eva, a housewife separated from her husband, who is looking to make a fresh start in life. Lil feels an immediate attraction for Eva, who misunderstands Lil’s flirting as friendliness. Eva is flattered by Lil’s attention and is delighted to accept her invitation to a party that evening – an event which turns out to be extremely awkward for everyone, but one which provides the catalyst for Eva to discover her own true self and to fall for Lil…
The story is propelled by a powerful and wonderfully written script, which, when coupled with good acting performances, as in this instance, instantly engenders an immersive connection to all of the characters from the first to the very last scene. The dialogue is at times raucous yet subtle and gentle; and fully demonstrates the universality of life experiences: fun, love, pain and loss; regardless of one’s sexuality.
Lil is played by Sophie Townsend, who is totally believable in the role. Her anguished performance in the second act of the play is especially good and provokes a strong emotional response from onlookers, as she deals with new found love and recurrence of an illness. Eva is played by George Cotterill, and is equally convincing in this role. With sensitive understanding and compassion for the part, she transforms an unloved, demur and naïve Eva into a confident and ebullient woman with all of the world before her.
The two lead roles are supported by six other actors: Lynette Barnes, Clare Green, Roz Skellorn, Shantell Braschler, Nikki Shepherd, and Antonia Harding. All have prominent parts and all are similarly first rate – performing with skill, composure and confidence. It wouldn’t be right to single out any one of the supporting actors for particular praise because they work as a fine-tuned ensemble and together create a polished performance, which presents each of their characters as a realistic, likeable and well-rounded person.
This is one of the best plays we’ve seen, and over the years we have seen many. It is a thoughtful, provocative and entertaining cocktail which is emotionally stimulating and rewarding. The songs by K D Lang also provide a perfect soundtrack. It is a great success for Director Phillipa Crundwell and her support crew.
Mention must be made of the impressive stage set, which features an open-plan beach cabin on raised decking, a sandy beach and rippling sea water. Certainly, good enough to grace the stage of a professional production.
Last Summer At Bluefish Cove runs until 7 October. This play contains strong language throughout and subject matter that some people may not be comfortable with. Age guidance 12+.