Royal and Derngate, Northampton – until 7 March 2020
Reviewed by Megan Raynor
‘The Last of the Pelican Daughters’ written and created by Bristol based The Wardrobe Ensemble and directed by Jesse Jones and Tom Brennan, is a beautifully crafted piece which centres around a family brought together to celebrate the birthday of their newly deceased mother. Four distinctively different sisters united, unbeknown to them, by their shared tendency to muddle through life. Storm (Jesse Meadows) craves the money and recognition for her role as her mother’s carer. Sage (Beatrice Scirocchi) craves her mum’s memory to live on. Joy (Kerry Lovell) craves a baby to call her own. Maya (Sally Cheng) craves to be taken seriously. To be a Pelican, we learn, means to be head strong and honest; allowing for an explosive evening to unfold.
Set within the peach walls of their mother’s house, fuelled by endless bottles of cheap prosecco and scored by their mum’s precious vinyl collection, the sisters are each forced to face their demons, not purely their grief but the curveballs life inevitably throws at everyone. The family dynamic, the Pelican quirks, are so well developed and it’s clear it’s a family evolved with heart, soul and memories from the company. The inside jokes and shared stories of the family added a great sense of truth. The addition of Grandma, visiting from day leave, is deliciously dark and hilarious. Dodo (yes, like the bird), Maya’s obnoxiously spiritual boyfriend had the audience crying with laughter; Laurie Jamieson delivered impeccable comic timing.
Their mother, although not cast, is as developed and visceral as the other family members. Her exuberance and brashness are encapsulated through stories, the kind of family stories that never cease to be brought up at gatherings, and the daughters’ embodiment of her. Her life and personality are celebrated in equal measure to the exploration of guilt for her loss. We see a bit of her in each of her children.
The design (Ruby Spencer Pugh) and aesthetic of the piece is complimentary to the fresh writing and stunning stylised movement sequences and tableaux. The projections and placards defining each scene by ‘chapter’ alongside the interjections of epic string scores were a strong choice – visually and conceptually this was a piece of deliberate and bold choices.
The piece seamlessly mixed tears of laughter into tears of heartbreak. Honest, thoughtful and intelligent in direction, writing and performance.
The Last of the Pelican Daughters finishes at The Royal and Derngate on March 7th before continuing its run onto Nuffield Southampton Theatre, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Lowry in Salford, Worthing Theatres, Bristol Old Vic and Aberystwyth Arts Centre.