“Unpublished” thoughts on California Lives

While there is plenty of room for cliches in authentic, everyday life, this doesn’t mean that such standardised linguistic short-cuts are easy to present through theatre. Thankfully, Carolyn Lyster rises to the challenge in the third of these unoriginal yet engaging monologues by Martin Foreman.

Looking out at a sun that, like all of us, must eventually disappear from view, a grandmother remembers the roller-coaster ride where the man that became her husband first held her hand. It’s an image cut straight out of a GCSE creative writing exercise, but Lyster utilises the thick conventionality of her script in order to enrich her character, bursting out of this ‘typical’ storyline with a performance that is touching, fragile and sophisticated. Working this conventional part, Lyster forces a disappointingly small audience to make time for her unremarkable character.

And so, despite the drab content there’s a freshness in this portrayal – and an elegance, too. From start to end Lyster’s eyes are alert with either dreamy inspiration or nostalgic pain – or sometimes both. This grandmother may be wearing a dull dress and apron, but there’s a delight in her smile that recalls a younger woman. Similarly, there’s a fire in the telling of her memories that conjures up images of the liberated mother who journeys from feeling patronised by her husband’s encouragement to go out and earn “pocket money”, to the dark horse who could rival him in business. Thanks to Lyster’s energetically wistful portrayal, this third monologue is awash with all the women this lady once was.

There’s a truth in movement that animates Foreman’s script as Lyster absorbs her character, letting the emotions of this older lady manifest themselves not just in the flighty shake of a hand, but also in less predictable worldly gestures, like an unfamiliar nervous flicker at the top of the cheek. Especially when accompanying the more tragic and shameful recollections, these are the signs that belie a sense of regret. Indeed, while the script can be guilty of spelling out things a little too clearly, Lyster’s refreshingly subtle gestures grant room for interpretation and reflection.

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