Theatre Review: Serendip by Sam Randall at the Bike Shed

Belinda Dillon reviews the latest performance at Exeter's Bike Shed Theatre which runs until 27th November.

In Serendip, Exeter playwright Sam Randall brings the city alive through the stories of six women across the years. By focussing on the everyday concerns and fears of ordinary women living ordinary lives, she explores the importance of friendship and community; these characters may live in different centuries, but their lives reveal parallels and similarities that continue to resonate. Sam Randall’s play also enables four South West talents to shine, and continues The Bike Shed Theatre’s run of impressive and thought-provoking plays.

Exeter in the 1940s: sisters Gertie (Annette Chown) and Dora (Katie Tranter), with their friend Kitty (Tanya Winsor), do their best to survive the bombings, living hand-to-mouth but always ready to share food, tea and comfort with a stranger they meet amid the debris. Forward to 2010: Ten (Annette Chown) and Cassie (Katie Tranter) are estranged friends renewing their connection, bemoaning their dead-end jobs and limited horizons, an unspoken grief hiding behind Ten’s haunted eyes; they are mystified by the silent presence of a woman keen to give them gifts. As the narratives flick back and forth, it becomes apparent that there are unacknowledged connections through the years – the ‘stranger’ (Robyn Steyn) is an enigmatic, ethereal presence who seems to signify something magical, something untenable yet vital that must be remembered in order to affect change.

Staged in the retro bar area of the theatre – the audience sitting at candlelit tables, on sofas or in cosy armchairs – the play draws you in, involves you in its intimate portrait of ordinary women living through extraordinary events, or just coping with the day-to-day job of getting by. All the acting is superb, with a standout performance from Katie Tranter – making her professional debut – as Dora/Cassie. The scene in which Gertie attempts to explain to the na�ve Dora how a ‘lost’ baby isn’t simply mislaid but gone forever is poignant and powerful.

Nick Stimson (who is also Associate Director of Theatre Royal, Plymouth) directs his talented cast with energy and flare – it’s a tricky space to make work, but everyone copes admirably, and the action moves so deftly that no part of the audience feels disadvantaged by the in-the-round staging for too long at a stretch. The sound effects – in particular the air raids – are shocking and realistic.

Another cracking production from the crew at The Bike Shed Theatre.

BY BELINDA DILLON

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7.30pm, �10. Running until 27th November.

The Bike Shed Theatre, 162/3 Fore Street, Exeter

01392 434169, www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk