Last weekend, I sat in on a rehearsal for The Distance, a new production of Deborah Bruce’s contemporary classic, which comes to the OSO from the 15th-19th November. I had the privilege of watching the actors rehearse a few scenes, as well as sitting down with director Susan Conte, and can confidently say that audiences are in for an absolute treat.
The Distance casts an unflinching eye on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, in a manner that is at times shocking, at others comforting. The story focuses on 40-year-old Bea (Charlotte Skinner), who abandons her husband and children in Australia to flee back to the home comforts of the UK. Friends Kate and Alex attempt to help her resolve her issues, with mixed results, and stoner hanger-on Vinnie makes things more difficult by uncovering uncomfortable truths about the women’s friendship.
I was immediately impressed by the realism of the script. Oscillating rapidly between black comedy and tense conflict, it mirrors the speed and rapid changes in direction that are integral to modern conversation. Though the protagonists are not always sympathetic, they are always intensely believable, and cast a sometimes uncomfortable mirror on our own friendships and relationships. The script is brought to life by the talented and authentic cast, many of whom seem to bring their own life experiences into their roles. Bruce’s script is a tricky one to perform, rooted as it is in the ticks and quirks of everyday conversation. But the cast should be applauded for the dedicated and passionate way that they approach the performance. Speaking to the cast after the rehearsal, it’s clear that every member of the company adores the play, and is giving everything to bring it to life.
The show also means a huge amount to director Susan Conte. Since seeing a run of The Distance at the Orange Tree in 2014, she has been waiting for the opportunity to stage her own production. The formation of her own company, Wild Duck Theatre, gave her just such an opportunity. The company, for which this will be the inaugural show, gives Conte the freedom to shape the production to her own vision. The success of this is apparent from watching her direct. She has an eye for the minute details of the show, and is not afraid to give precise direction to the cast when she feels that there are improvements to be made. Such detailed direction is clearly well received by the cast.
The Distance is essential viewing for anyone excited by the idea of contemporary, personal theatre in the heart of Barnes. At once intensely funny and powerfully moving, this is not a show to miss.
The Distance runs for 5 nights and a Saturday matinee from the 15th-19th November. Tickets are selling fast, so be sure to book in advance.