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The Review Page.

On this page are the press reactions to the premiere of  Sunspots, as well as a couple of cast photos.

Sara Belcher (Aimee), and Raquel Cassidy (Pola)

Pola collects bars of soap from the men who, having quenched their libidinous thirsts, have discarded her. One day she's going to make one big bar and use it to wash herself. When Aimie, her sister, comes to visit, she finds Pola living with desperate gaiety in an abandoned games room with graffiti-splattered walls. Aimee's anal boyfriend falls into a cataleptic fit at the sight of Pola s unruly lodgings.

Lisa Goldman's detailed and deeply sympathetic direction of Judy Upton's newest play keeps every moment of the ensuing drama alive - so much so that the technically clumsy scene-changes and the seemingly ten-thumbed board operator are hardly noticeable. Raquel Cassidy (Pola) hides her bruised Lolita eyes behind her stolen hoard of sunglasses, turning the stage into a playground for her pouting, petulant fantasies. And Aimee (Sara Belcher) totters behind her, too easily swayed, inventing flattering reasons for her older sister's behaviour. Even boyfriend Robert Calvert - in spite of being in a coma almost throughout - and Jake Nightingale, who is the amiable layabout, are delicately designed to balance the central drama between the sisters.

Never improbable or exaggerated, the production achieves an intensity of desire and longing, and a mood of enduring affection. Goldman and her cast have explored and developed an intriguing world. Well worth seeing.

Craig Higginson - Time Out 5-12/6/1996

Judy Upton's new play for the Red Room might not seem much on the surface, but its atmosphere has an impact that refuses to let your imagination free for days after.  Sunspots centres on the relationship between the straight-laced Aimee and Pola, her big sister.  Aimee brings her smug, middle aged fiance Sam to Hastings (the quintessential English seaside town that they forgot to bomb) to see Pola before she and Sam retire to Cyprus.

Pola is the manic depressive bohemian, living to tag with grafitti every wall on the South coast.  She's been replaced as Aimee's idol by Sam, the sort of man who complains about the cost of railway sandwiches.  At the disused amusement arcade where Pola squats, one fast burst of techno brings Sam to his knees, literally, and his epileptic attack throws him into a coma of sorts.  Local lothario Jake helps Aimee carry Sam to hospital, but by now she realises that her world still revolves around Pola, and the two sisters plan an escape.

It might sound fragile plot-wise, but the strength of Upton's writing is to create a vivid and evocative atmosphere redolent of the emotions - love and hate - that tie these people together.  The details may be inconsequential. But these tiny things are built through fine images, yet still reek of real life.

Lisa Goldman's production certainly plays to Upton's strengths, and its foundation is four excellent performances. The men are relegated to the role of satellites to the women - a refreshing change - but both Robert Calvert as the stiff Sam and Jake Nightingale as wideboy Jake thrive on creating parts through touches of detail that pull them away from caricature.

The alternately comfortable and uncomfortable relationship at the heart of the play is that between the two sisters. Sarah Belcher radiates a deceptively fragile strength as Aimee, while Raquel Cassidy as Pola flicks with disconcerting skill from her high-pitched manic skin to an alarmingly still sadness. Both Belcher and especially Cassidy are talents to watch.

The garish arcade is at the centre of Hastings, and dominates Annabel Shapiro's fine set. Upton is fascinated with people living on the edge of the sea - viz. The Shorewatcher's House, seen at this venue last year.  The relationship of the English to the sea is summed up by a town like Hastings: a tacky facade next to something far more powerful and possibly destructive. For the sisters too, their closeness may be too much for their own good.

Sunspots confirms Upton as one of the most promising writers working in London at present.  And the venue itself, winner of a well-earned Guinness Pub Theatre Award, is fast developing as one of the best on the fringe. It's disheartening then that, on this night at least, the audience was a very small handful. That is the fringe, sure, but the Red Room and this piece deserve a lot more support.

Tassos Stevens - What's On 5/6/96

You can almost smell the candy floss and hear the one-armed bandits coughing up their winnings as Judy Upton's Sunspots, directed by Lisa Goldman, puts life into a not so great British seaside resort by adding plenty of black humour and a credible, if perhaps too scripted, multi-layered human tragedy.

Part of the Red Room's Coming to Land season, this earthy tale of two sisters - one wayward, one conventional meeting up again but burdened by the emotional baggage of their very different fives, is always interesting.  Pola (Racquel Cassidy), an artist of the aerosol variety, damages the ozone layer and council property in Hastings but mostly herself, emotionally sneering at anything Establishment. One tailor-made target is her kid sister Aimee's intended wealthy fiance Sam (Robert Calvert), who arrives reluctantly in tow berating the cost of British Rail sandwiches and dole spongers with their dogs on ropes.

Pola, who lives in a tacky, disused amusement arcade on takeaway pizzas while stockpiling left-over soap from one night stands, disgusts him. Sarah Belcher as Aimee is absolutely spot-on, giving a touching performance as the more fragile sister with some nice, believable lines to work with, as when she says: "she's been living her life in black and white and needs Pola to colour it in." Enter the excellent Jake Nightingale, a 'Jake' of all trades, a lads' lad and with an on-off relationship with the "crazy cow."

All four roles contribute hugely to a piece which works very well.  The only predictable moment comes when Sam chucks himself under a train at the station - had he been on the Northern line he may have changed his mind during the two-hour wait.

Derek Smith - The Stage

Judy Upton s new play, Sunspots - like her last one, Bruises at the Theatre Upstairs shows a peculiar fascination with English seaside resorts: in this case, seductively dilapidated Hastings.  But the rather fragile action concerns the confrontation of two fugitive Sydenham sisters: Bohemian Pola (Racquel Cassidy) who devotes herself to paint-spraying public buildings and Aimee (Sarah Belcher) who is about to flee to Cyprus with a smug, elderly lover. Upton writes lively dialogue and has a strong sense of atmosphere - much of the action takes place in a disused Hastings casino - but they are not enough to sustain her story.

Dryden and Upton both write truthfully about the tensions of sisterhood and mother-daughter relationships.  Maybe they should get together since each has dramatic virtues which the other could profitably use.

Michael Billington - The Guardian

More family grief in Judy Upton's new play Sunspots (Red Room, Kentish Town). Twenty-something Aimee visits her sister Pola in Hastings. Aimee is about to leave for Cyprus with her fiance, Sam, an older man and a travel agent to boot. Pola - who is squatting in an amusement arcade and spends most of her life "tagging" buildings with spray cans - has been sectioned in the past.  Not surprisingly, she and the conservative Sam hate each other from the off. So when Sam has a catatonic fit, the battle begins for Aimee's soul: will she choose her dull-as-dishwater lover or her crazy sister?

Sunspots is a difficult, resolutely unschematic play.  If you're the kind of person who likes to have some idea what a play is "saying" when you come out, you'll find it maddeningly frustrating. But there are good things here, in the text as well as the performances. Upton's a playful writer who likes nothing better than to upset expectations. To take a tiny example, it's straight Aimee not drop-out Pola who believes in the power of crystals to heal. And that contrariness is true of the plot, too. You thought this was a tale of redemption through illness, or self discovery through sex. Think again - because Upton has an agenda of her own and, though you may not have the foggiest what it is, at least its not the cliche  you feared.

The Independent

Most of Judy Upton's plays seem to take place at the seaside or on the coast. The tackiness and tatty, broken-down nature of the average coastal town in this country especially out of season - would seem to be a fitting backdrop for the dysfunctional relationships she depicts so well.

In a run-down amusement arcade lives Pola, an unconventional and streetwise, self-styled graffiti artist (her trademark signature is, tellingly, SIS) who lives a freewheeling, though clearly troubled existence, harvesting bars of soap from the men who have rejected her. Sister Aimee is the apparently staid and sweet one, set to go off to Cyprus and marry the desperately boring travel agent Sam, as she comes for a first and last visit to Hastings.

What transpires is a battle between Pola and Sam for the soul of Aimee as she fails to throw off the shackles of the past, her dependent relationship on her sister. There's no doubt who will win as Sam has an epileptic fit and Pola dials for a pizza rather than an ambulance. The conflict also marks the division between the haves and have-nots, though Upton thankfully soft-pedals on the class war of the dispossessed in favour of probing into the psychological bond between the siblings.

The background here is vague, save that mother put father and Pola into some kind of mental institution, with the result that she ran off, leaving Aimee to fend for herself. She's a born victim. Upton's oblique take on the situation is commendable - even if it leaves rather too many gaps to be filled in - and it's all directed with a light hand by Lisa Goldman.  There's an excellent performance, too, from Raquel Cassidy, whose flighty Pola suggests a permanently damaged soul.

Sunspots is the first of the Red Room's Coming to Land Season, the winner of a Guinness Ingenuity pub theatre award.  It's a fine start.

Mark Cook - Ham and High

The Review Pages:
[Everlasting Rose] [Ashes and Sand] [Temple] [The Shorewatchers' House] [Bruises] [Stealing Souls]
[Sunspots] [People on the River] [To Blusher with Love] [The Girlz] [Know Your Rights] [Confidence]
[The Ballad of a Thin Man] [Sliding with Suzanne]

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