By Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production
June 7th – June 29th 2014
“There’s a lot of ape in children”, The Grandmother tells us, and it is this unforgiving approach to childhood that stands out in The Summer Book.
The Grandmother (Sara Kestelman) and Sophia (Sammy Foster) are spending the summer on an island. Little pieces of information are glean-able – it seems that they return to this island house each year, that Sophia’s mother has recently passed away, that Sophia’s father, whilst on the island, is emotionally and physically unavailable, and that, though Sophia doesn’t seem to notice, The Grandmother is suffering from ill-health, perhaps dying. Together they write The Summer Book, a book about animals and, often, their deaths. “Shall I read it?”, asks The Grandmother when they have finished. “I don’t have time right now,” Sophia responds, “but you can save it for my children.”
Sophia is blunt, unaware, selfish, self-involved, fickle – as well as sweet, curious, brave and fearful. “Dear Grandma,” she writes in a note to her grandmother. “I hate you. With warm best wishes, Sophia.” She is a real child, and played by a real child – this is surprisingly rare in children’s theatre. Sammy Foster was believably pouty, doing the whiny, abrupt lilt of a tweenie voice almost annoyingly well. The Summer Book is, therefore, a strange mix of being extremely unsentimental, whilst almost dripping with emotion. The cadence of each scene is often the same – lighthearted exchanges that become increasingly aphoristic. When Sophia steps on a worm, her grandmother tells her, “Nothing is easy when you might come apart at any moment.” It’s an intense hour.
For Sophia, the summer days are endlessly long, and for The Grandmother they are regretfully short. The claustrophobia, bickering and ritual of a family holiday are all here, revealing the unconditional and understated love between the pair. Sammy Kestelman as The Grandmother is wonderfully cantankerous and no-nonsense, performing with real heart and force.
The Summer Book is atmospheric and overflowing with meaning, but it’s all a bit too much. As Olive Prouty said to Sylvia Plath about her writing: “a lamp turned too high might shatter its chimney. Please just glow sometimes.”
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