Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
TS Elliot – Four Quartets
When it comes to narratives that are set on trains, they broadly fall within two camps: the mysteries (4.50 From Paddington/Strangers On A Train/The 39 Steps) and the life-changing, transitory meetings (Before Sunrise/Brief Encounter). In recent years we’ve had plays such as Tom Ward-Thomas’ One Of Those, which focuses on two couples aboard a train that travels between London and Cornwall. In contrast, Vicki Berwick’s Lucky has the distinction of being set in ‘real time’ on the ‘fast train’ between London to Cambridge. On this journey, every second counts…
Reading a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 18-year-old Lizzie (Hollie Crisp) is joined in her carriage by Ted (Edmund Dehn). The sight of an elderly man crying is distressing for Lizzie and proceeds to offer him one of her tissues. What they say next has a profound, lasting effect on both of them…
Crisp’s Lizzie is audibly someone who hails from south London, but what she says doesn’t quite add up and the character is much more complicated than meets the eye. The same ‘complexity’ could be said about Ted, but while his deportment and love of classical references mark him as a ‘man of learning’, his ‘inner life’ is not visible in the slightest and it’s only through the sincere interest exhibited by Lizzie that fragments of his past are teased out of him.
At a time when numbers of students in Britain from a working class background have fallen to pre-1960s levels, Lizzie’s predicament mirrors the Shavian paradigm refrenced in the play – conscious of not fitting in and having second thoughts about the ‘suitability’ of education (at least in that environment) for her.
For Ted, his days at Cambridge also had the most profound effect on his life in the way it affected relationships, then and in the future. His circumstances are very much the ‘meat’ of the plays of Terence Rattigan and Emlyn Williams – one’s private life versus what’s shown in public.
Under the sensitive direction of Sarah Lawrie, the issues raised in this delicate play are teased out gently, much as the warmth of the sun elicits blooms to open over time and reveal hidden layers.
Using the train as a ‘knot in time’, Berwick brings past and present together as the differences and similarities between the generations are laid bare, and epiphanies bring long-sought-after clarity on matters of the heart.
© Michael Davis 2018
Lucky ran at the Tabard Theatre on 22nd May.