Bristol, Corrie, drama, Dreams, Encounters, Exeunt, Homeward Bound, LA Dodgers, Major League Baseball, Naia Headland-Vanni, Parents, Plymouth Mariners, Ruth Mitchell, St Michael's Hill, Students, Tavi Gevinson, Teaching, The Bill, The White Bear Pub, Theatre, Vogue, Wardrobe Theatre
Homeward Bound, written and performed by Ruth Mitchell, interweaves the stories of Mitchell’s son’s dream to play major league baseball with her own Northern upbringing and the lives of her mother and grandmother. The surface arbitrariness of the two strands of narrative is completely belied by the way in which Mitchell flawlessly links them to one theme: our dreams and ambitions.
Mitchell’s grandmother Annie spent most of her life scuppered by a ‘faulty heart’ the doctors detected when she gave birth to Grace, Mitchell’s mother. As Mitchell admits, she didn’t have the most exciting of lives, spending a large chunk of it cooking for Mitchell and her mother. But she gets her uplifting moment after going to – obviously the best – doctor who prescribes her a glass or two of champagne a day, which gets her dancing round the kitchen, knees-up-mother-brown style.
Grace, meanwhile, spent most of her life teaching drama in a primary school in order to placate her mother who did not want her to become an actress. Finally, after Annie passed away, Grace left her job as a teacher and in her 50s became an actress on ‘the Northern circuit’ and getting jobs on Corrie and The Bill.
The next generation is Mitchell herself, who we actually know very little about, apart from how seriously she takes her son’s love of baseball and ambition to play it professionally. In this, Mitchell sets herself apart from most parents –and teachers and other adults more generally. Few parents, I think, really rate their children’s dreams, especially if they seem as improbable as an English boy making it to play for the LA Dodgers. But Mitchell does and she takes it seriously enough to demonstrate, through projected clips of the team playing throughout history, the allure and magnetism of baseball. She also talks about how dreams can come and go; how a person can have many attempts in their lives at doing something. This reminded me of a recent quote from Tavi Gevinson in Vogue who said, “Your domain doesn’t have to be writing or acting or editing or curating…For me, my domain is me – and I just find the best medium for expressing that.”
Downstairs in the White Bear pub, the rooms are filling up with Bristol Uni freshers nearing the end of their first week on campus. There are several moans from the theatre crowd about the other set of people, just like there always is in the area – the supermarkets are too full, the noise is too much and – as I heard the other day: “They were playing porn at top volume into my garden every night!” How many people really take those people downstairs seriously? How many would believe them if they said they would be the next editor of the Times or the next winner of a gold medal for Olympic rowing? Older people often put the young down out of a simple bitterness because they never achieved what they wanted and then stopped trying at age 25, never thinking what Grace thought: that it might take years, but you still hold on to the dream and still make it happen.
With one man [woman/person] shows, there is nowhere to hide. When the performer gets it right therefore, the whole thing is almost severely brilliant. Homeward Bound was, without question, one of the best shows I have ever watched. It reminded me of The Tiger and the Moustache by Saikat Ahamed, in that it shared the same amount of humour, warmth and insight. Mitchell’s superb narrative was never saccharine, patronising or contrived, although others could have made it so. I wish more parents were like her; I wish more humans were like her.
Homeward Bound was preceded by Encounters, a short ten-minute play by Naia Headland-Vanni. The play was more a vignette; a little snapshot of a story already in motion before the performance started, only here was the crucial scene. If Encounters was a bigger play, then this scene would be the whole point of Encounters, the bit quoted and remembered. But being dropped in on it without the preceding story makes it better, because it leaves ambiguity over exactly what is happening here. By which I mean to an extent we know – here are two people meeting for the first time and maybe it is an internet date thingy, only it seems more like a potential sham marriage. But then they somehow end up making the decision to really be together, to really fall in love and to really stay together because without this they are just two terribly lonely people.
Kirsty Cox and Eoin Slatterly are well cast as Melanie and James, the two awkward wannabe-lovers. Cox in particular is wearing this wonderfully ill-chosen outfit, which is a bit Dobby from Peep Show dressed for a wedding. The dress could be cute, but it’s a little too short to be sophisticated and the shoes…oh the shoes! The shoes are little silver Mary Jane pumps. They’re adorable and would look lovely on the shelf, sensible too for running for a bus. But they’re simultaneously awful. Far too young, far too whimsical for a woman of Melanie’s age. They tell you everything you need to know about this character in a glance: she’s a little girl and she wants to be hugged.
Encounters, like Homeward Bound, demonstrated how much can be told in a very short space of time. The success of it as a format should encourage other venues to stage short performances like this. It’s like those short Pixar films (I want to call them ‘filmettes”) that go before the movie, they’re funny and give the impression of the writers actually having fun with their medium. These snippets of stories are intensely memorable and offer the audience a two-for-one feeling (which we all love in a bloody recession). Let’s make like Pixar and start serving the audience a nice little starter.