Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
1:02 AM 28th October 2023

These Majestic Creatures – Emma Geraghty

(L-R) Andrina Carroll, Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen
© Tony Bartholomew
(L-R) Andrina Carroll, Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen © Tony Bartholomew
The ‘Creature’ of the title seems to be the Fin Whale washed up on a Bridlington beach in May this year. Extending the metaphor, it also represents the two (or is it three?) characters portrayed on stage.

Unfortunately, I found the bickering less majestic, and I was not alone; the couple sitting next to me departed at the interval.

Set in a Scarborough guest house, what unfolds on stage is a family saga that features a mother and her daughter (daughter, Max: Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen, and mother, Pam: Adrina Carroll) and is told in episodes from the 1980s to the present. As we progress through time (forwards and backwards), the two actors assume different roles. For example, matriarch Pam becomes her own irascible mother, and Max takes on the role of Pam.

With me so far?

Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen
© Tony Bartholomew
Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen © Tony Bartholomew
Time switches are identified by one of the actors turning a wall calendar that indicates the year and by a curious electrical buzzing and flashing light that somehow suggests time travel. As we progress between installments, family secrets are revealed, which explain the fraught relationships between the three women.

It appears that the writer’s intention is to reiterate the mantra that we do not communicate enough and that not talking about our problems leads to illnesses of various kinds. This may be true, but it may also be the case that some things are better left unsaid.

Pam’s problem is that she carries the weight of her mother’s disapproval. Carroll renders a lifetime of disapprobation with subtlety and understatement, then she assumes the role of her own bitter mother, illuminating why the Pam character is so damaged.

Andrina Carroll, Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen
© Tony Bartholomew
Andrina Carroll, Ingrid Bolton-Gabrielsen © Tony Bartholomew
The daughter, Max, has her own problems. She arrives at Pam’s guest house unexpectedly, though there is a funeral pending and Max is delivering the eulogy. After much questioning, she reveals that she has recently hit her partner and is running away from the consequences. She has long since revealed to her mother that she is ‘queer’ (the word used in the script), but the confession of violence is something new.

As no doubt you have worked out, this is a play of ideas and relationships. In that respect, it feels like a kitchen sink, albeit with a dash of twenty-first-century anxiety.

Director Kash Ashad must have had fun keeping control of the timings necessary for this play, and set designer Chloe Wyn has obviously thought hard about how to create a space sufficiently flexible for multiple decades. However, keeping the same layout for the kitchen but using one prop (a Bush radio) to embody earlier decades just looks like a failure of verisimilitude. The curious rock-like formations to the left and right of the stage only illuminate one scene at the very end, when the whale is being removed and somehow mother and daughter are reconciled.

This is a curious piece, written by Emma Geraghty when she was writer in residence at the Stephen Joseph. There has, of course, been a recent visitor to Scarborough, Thor the walrus, but he managed to swim back out to sea.

These Magical Creatures is professionally produced but ultimately lacking in cohesion, but I detect potential here for more in the future.

These Magical Creatures continues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 4th November. More information here