You’ll be welcomed onto the stage at the start of this warm-hearted performance: invited to leave your coat with Kath, a matronly cloakroom attendant at a nameless provincial theatre. You can tell a lot about an audience from their coats, she says, and the rack of outerwear behind her tells us a lot about her life, too. As we witness a series of scenes from Kath’s past, a donkey jacket takes us back to the eighties, while an apron’s enough to evoke a craftsman father; it’s a simple and clever device, which fluidly links those remembered scenes with a story in the present day.
The early part of the script follows well-trodden pathways, primarily offering an affectionate look back on the follies of Kath’s youth. But soon, a slow and overwhelming sadness invades her life – as it becomes gradually clear that one of her dreams for the future will never come true. One particularly effective sequence highlights the corrosive effect of disappointment, and the way that tender feelings can slowly wither and die. There are universal topics here, as well: the loss of a loved one, unfair jealousies which cannot be spoken, the pressures that weigh on family life.
From time to time, playwright Alison Dunne gently subverts our expectations, without ever pushing things so far as to threaten our belief. I particularly enjoyed the gender-inversion of the first few vignettes, where the men in Kath’s life are the sensitive types and she’s the one who’s only after one thing. Kath’s young colleague Sam, meanwhile, displays some nicely-drawn contrasts too, excited and energised by a dreamed-off future in the Army yet with painful realities of her own buried in the past.
The story’s held together by a pair of strong performances: Lesley Emery brings a sense of down-to-earth poignancy to Kath, while Charlotte Bond is convincing both as Sam, and in a procession of minor roles. Directing her own script, Dunne also delivers a host of creative details, adding variety to the series of short scenes while maintaining the effective simplicity of the central theme of “cloaks”. One image, where an estranged partner is represented only by an empty jacket, is heartbreaking.
The whole thing could perhaps be a few minutes shorter – and I’d have welcomed a more emphatic ending, to bring the story to a satisfying close. But this is Fringe theatre as it ought to be: unadorned, unpretentious, but hugely professional all the same. It might not be life-changing or ground-breaking, but it’s sensitive and touching. And in the end, that’s really all you need to know. I’ll get my coat.