Symbolic of life’s journey, May and Raleigh’s train ride across the United States from California to Kentucky during the Second World War is a passage of transition, leaving the past behind and approaching the next destination with not a little trepidation.
Directed by Katherine Farmer, Arlene Hutton’s two-man show appealed to a range of emotions, mixing humour and tension in equal portions.
May, played sensitively by Lily Nicksay is heading home after a disappointing visit with her aviator and now ex-fiancé, anxious about facing the questions the folks back home will ask.
The engaging Raleigh, deftly portrayed by Erik Odom, makes the acquaintance of the intense young woman and starts up a conversation with her despite her best efforts to put him off. Discharged from the Air Force for medical reasons, he has his own reasons for not wanting to return to his sharecropping roots.
While in some ways a classic “boy meets girl” story, the play also explores the crippling effects of a range of prejudices — from social status and education to morality and patriotism — and the struggle of the two to cope with rapid and unsettling societal change.
May’s awakening mirrors in many ways the opening up of American society as a result of the war.
As Raleigh admits: “We’re riding on this country’s future hoping we won’t get lost on the way.”
The 90-minute play explores in three scenes the evolution over three years or so of the relationship of the two young people, pulling at the heartstrings of the audience in the process. There is great tension as we hope desperately that May will open her eyes to what a catch Raleigh is and that Raleigh will be able to see past May’s prickly defences to recognise her intelligence and genuine kindness.
Hutton has captured the significance of inconsequential conversation precisely, as the two talk over and around the issues, misunderstand each other, and ultimately grasp the message beneath the words.
There is a great deal of humour in the clever repartee and social commentary in the gentle, but incisive style of Jane Austen. Particularly amusing are the “grammar lesson” in the second scene and the dialogue at cross-purposes when May thinks Raleigh has leprosy, not epilepsy.
A minimal set conveyed the essence of the setting leaving the audience to focus on the dialogue, which was delivered at a good pace and never dragged.
A photograph projected onto the scrim and a wooden bench conveyed deftly a train carriage, a park bench and a porch seat, while the lighting took us from bright morning to late afternoon and onto a moonlit evening. Costuming also thoughtfully conveyed character as the tightly buttoned May evolved into a self-assured, suited professional, and Raleigh moved away from military uniform to published author in dress slacks and tie.
Last Train to Nibroc is the first in a trilogy of plays, and I found myself rooting so strongly for this unlikely pair that I would very much like to see the sequels to discover what happens next.
Perhaps something to consider for future festivals, or, even better, the intimate production space of Daylesford Theatre.
• For the full list of Festival shows visit: bermudafestival.org