Mavis Sparkle loves cleaning and chatting, and for 45 minutes she does both in M6 Theatre’s one-woman show. It’s like Hilda Ogden meets Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, with some magic thrown in. We meet Mavis as she comes to a cross-roads: it’s the final day of her current job, and she’s not quite sure what to do next. She’s worked in schools, hospitals and factories, and fancies something a bit more exciting – like cleaning a fair or a zoo! And what about her other dreams, like seeing the aurora borealis?
Not since Mary Poppins has tidying looked so exciting, and Mavis rivals the magical nanny for packing tricks and illusions into her cleaning session thanks to Joss Matzen’s design. The equivalent of Poppins’ signature carpet bag is Mavis’ bucket: she pulls an impossibly huge mop from its limited depths. That’s not all – once she starts washing the floors, the bucket begins to follow her around the room until the two become unlikely dance partners. Her cleaning trolley is equally entertaining, full of secret compartments and surprises that slowly reveal more and more about the leading lady. It’s like a movable home, filled with photo frames and pets, an homage to the camper van that Mavis lived in as a child when her parents were touring as performing magicians.
At first glance, the play is about following your dreams, reaching for the stars and finding the magic in every moment, but it works on multiple levels and contains so much more than that. In Mavis Sparkle, we watch a woman take stock of her life, and explore where she’s come from and where she’s going to, so while the play is certainly very sweet and funny, there’s sadness there too. It’s a sophisticated script which is as much about what she doesn’t say: the spirited Mavis always soldiers on, only hinting at the pain of watching her parents give up the job and life they loved, just as she now faces cut backs at work. And though Mavis may love her job, she alludes to the loneliness involved – she works earlier or later than everyone else. Still, Mavis always makes the best of things – turning her bucket into a comfy chair and using three ‘Wet Floor’ signs as a table so that her teatime-for-one is a proper event. Eve Robertson plays the role with emotional restraint and fearsome resilience, and it is hugely moving.
Like all M6 Theatre productions, Mavis Sparkle is very human and full of heart, but there is something that sets it apart as a modern classic.
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