The REP Studio, Birmingham, Tuesday 19th April, 2016
Tom Wells’s new play is about folk – as in people and as in the traditional music they share. It’s about traditions surviving through generations – not just music but belief, here typified by Winnie’s constant appeals to saints to assist her in all walks of life, including playing the spoons.
Winnie is a nun, straight out of Father Ted. Nuns are ‘for comedy’ she states and she certainly gives us that. Hard-drinking, smoking, and foul-mouthed, she knows how to have a rip-roaring time to let off steam, singing folk songs with her lifelong friend Stephen on a Friday night. Their revelry is interrupted when a brick comes through the window. Winnie confronts the vandal only to find it’s fifteen-year old Kayleigh. To Stephen’s (and our) incredulity, she invites the girl in to join the party.
And so begins a friendship between the two women, and a gradual thawing from the taciturn Stephen. Winnie, in the face of medical advice, continues with the fags and the booze until her wild ways catch up with her, while Kayleigh has to come to terms with the prospect of being a single teen mom, and Stephen has a revelation of his own to make. It’s a charming, funny script, peppered with sweet and haunting music, as Stephen tutors Kayleigh to toot.
Connie Walker is a real live-wire as the energetic Winnie, showing us warmth and heart beneath the surface. She is irresistible in her good nature and is the driving force of the action. Patrick Bridgman is perhaps a little too quiet as the reticent Stephen but he gets across how deep still waters can run, and Chloe Harris’s awkward and damaged Kayleigh blossoms before our eyes – her confidence and self-esteem growing in tandem with her proficiency on the penny whistle.
Director Tessa Walker marshals the three very different energies of the trio, contrasting moments of hilarity with poignancy. Folk music, here a metaphor for humanity, transcends time, gender and sexuality. Our commonalities will enable us to get along despite our differences in character and circumstance. It’s a heart-warming message, subtly presented.
A conventional piece but none the less satisfying because of it, Folk is an enjoyable, life-affirming piece that doesn’t sugar-coat its take on life.