Time For Tea, Etcetera Theatre – Review

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Cowgate, Edinburgh. Anybody who has been to ‘the Festival’ or just about to go, will know that the aforementioned place is at the heart of Scotland’s capital, with an impressive footfall during August. Now imagine a fire taking place there… This may sound like at best a horrific, unthinkable scenario and at worst ‘tempting fate’, but such a blaze did take place – back in December 2002. But in any given fire or disaster, it’s not the tourists who bear the brunt of the ‘aftermath’ but the residents…

Abbi Douetil

Written and directed by Lita Doolan, Time For Tea examines three very different people following an explosion in Edinburgh. At the centre of this tale is Mila (Abbi Douetil), a teenager who has run away from her foster parents and ‘living rough’. Offering the ‘outsider’s’ perspective is Max (Sean Huddlestan). A former journalist, he has a very different ‘vocation’ now, but that doesn’t stop him from having a keen interest in the people he passes everyday. And then there’s Emily (Jenny Rowe). Fallen on bad times, she’s unable to pay her way, and frequently talks to the bank and local council to ‘keep a roof over her head’. Not that she’s getting much luck…

As you might expect, the women’s respective stories are the emotional core of the play. Demonstrating their frustration with the world, as well as the occasional lapse of judgment, they are all too human – and all the more relatable for it.

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L-R: Abbi Douetil, Sean Huddlestan and Jenny Rowe

Douetill vividly conveys how dangerous it is for women living on the streets, scrutinised by all and sundry. Now that her foster father is back out of prison, Mila can’t hang around for him to get back to his ‘old habits’. Still, her older brother’s postcard from Edinburgh offers hope.

Meanwhile, Emily’s candid admission about her partner opting to be with another woman and her ‘difficult’ relationship with her foster daughter hint at the emotional pressures in her life. Dealing with a lot of extreme circumstances, the women focus very much on their own immediate problems.

In contrast, following the ‘event’, Max’s concern is very much for the destitute nearby and their whereabouts – particularly one teenage girl who has gone missing. Her diary and phone give clues as to why she ‘left home’ in the first place, as well as her gift for writing – yet because of her ‘status’, will be forgotten about by society. He can’t let this happen. He can’t let certain events happen again…


The play is replete with street names that annual visitors to Edinburgh will readily recognise. Their familarity – but referenced in a completely different context – lends the plays its unnerving power. On the surface, a play about a disaster and those on the fringes of society would be a shoo-in for a place such as London. However, while Westminster’s ‘ambivalent’ relationship with the homeless is well-documented, the topic is seldom mentioned in the same breath of Edinburgh, even though like any major city it has its fair share of the homeless. What is the status quo’s response to ‘the problem’? Are the homeless – such as those on the streets of Windsor during the recent royal wedding – ‘encouraged’ to move on?

Such questions should make us uncomfortable. For if we know the ‘bigger picture’, but don’t speak out, we’re implicity giving permission for the demonisation of those of the margins of society. There’s a saying: ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ Except people don’t ‘disappear’ because they’re ‘hidden’. More often than not, they’re ‘hiding’ in plain sight – a spectacle we choose not to see or acknowledge…

© Michael Davis 2018

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Time For Tea ran at the Etcetera Theatre, London on 30th July.

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