Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 4 stars – Empowering
Ipswich does not come across well in this play – despite being 175 years apart, both Tilly (Felicity Houlbrooke) and Samira (Filipa Bragança) are so desperate to get away from the place that they flee the country. But Echoes does not focus on the potential shortcomings of Suffolk’s largest town, instead choosing to put issues of race, faith and feminism under the microscope.
Henry Naylor’s double monologue tells of two parallel lives set so far apart in time and yet seemingly so similar in their realisation. Tilly (Houlbrooke) is a blue stocking in the Victorian era who makes the (then radical) decision to flee on a boat to Afghanistan and take a lieutenant for a husband. Strong-willed, intelligent and religious, Tilly has already broken boundaries by taking her life in her own hands and choosing her man to marry. By contrast, Samira (Bragança) chooses the service of Islamic State and as such sacrifices her right to choose her suitor. Hand in hand with her ‘kissing teeth’ BFF, she too follows her faith into the unknown. Neither finds their paradise in the destination.
Naylor’s writing is nothing short of masterful in this inflammatory tale that preaches against submission. Each character takes their turn to recant a portion of their monologue, at times in sync with one another and at times taking opposing directions. But the strength of character in each woman never falters. Both, while initially timid, have an inner passion that engulfs them in flames when confronted with the realisation of their situations. Yet at the outset there is some comedy in the delivery, from Bragança in particular. Given that her situation is much closer to present day, it is easier to wedge in satirical references to UKIP, Nigel Farage and “Kim Kardashian’s bottom”.
Once the production progresses, building slowly to an emotional and devastating climax, the speeches pour forth in inspirational prose. The ability of both actors and writer to bring imagery so clearly to life is a true testament to their professionalism. Both women feel the sharp sting of a bruised male ego, “Can’t. Don’t. Won’t.” turns into acts of physical violence that both are forced to stoically endure. But by being subjected to such abhorrence, each start to realise the double standards in the sexes, “The men twist the rules because they hold the guns.” Their initial naïve views of subjugated service twist, distort and blur into echoes of their former selves. As they grasp each other’s hands in the end (interacting for the only time in the play) the sense of solidarity is exhilarating.
Both Bragança and Houlbrooke breathe life and soul into both their female parts and any supporting roles in the story. With the gift of Naylor’s script to work with, both are able to conjure up women that regardless of the time they existed in can be considered as powerful, exceptional individuals.
Writer: Henry Naylor
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
Runs until 11 May 2016