China Plates and Pearl Earrings, written and directed by Jade Jones, is a play about a theme that is unfortunately universal to us all: grief. Julia, Nicola, and Bryan meet in the living room of their recently deceased parents’ home to prepare it for sale. As they are packing up their childhood home and the memories that go hand in hand, they make an inconvenient discovery, meaning the siblings are faced not only with overcoming grief but subsidence, and a gold-digging member of the family. They slowly realise that they must pull together, or, like the house, fall apart.

The play is set in the round with a half-packed living room in the middle, and the audience seated on all sides around the performing area. The intimate nature of the venue added to the vulnerability of the piece, and was complimented by Richard Lomax’s lighting. Cleverly, we see boxes being packed by the siblings in one scene, and then unpacked by younger versions of the parents in the next scene as the two stories run concurrently.

The two simultaneous storylines of the siblings packing up the house and the parents’ journey at the start of their marriage was an ingenious concept, and made for a more poignant experience. The whole cast coped ably with the varying emotions grief can uncover, and created a raw, moving atmosphere for the audience that stayed with them after the play had finished.

Claire Haymes’ strong performance as Julia set the emotional tone for the piece from the very start. The three siblings Julia (Haymes), Bryan (Paul Fraser-Smith) and Nicola (Lorna Newman) had an extremely believable relationship. It was wonderful to see the different sides to this complex family relationship where “adult” issues and underlying tensions were unearthed, alongside the siblings reverting back to being children whilst being back in their childhood home. It was particularly enjoyable to see Haymes, Fraser-Smith and Newman release their inhibitions and go back to simple childish pleasures. Tom Coffey (Freddie) and Emma Young (Linda) also had a good chemistry as the parents and were charming to watch. Young performed with maturity portraying a strong, independent Linda, and Coffey captured the audience’s hearts as Freddie. Bryan’s wife Ivy (Helen O’Hara) provided comedic relief, and Julia’s boyfriend, poor, loveable Mark (Ali Wilson-Goldsmith) seemed to just get caught up in all the chaos. A special mention must be made to Newman’s outstanding performance as Nicola.

The performance was supported by live musical interludes by acoustic guitar, composed by John Harrison and Jade Jones which worked well for the scene changes.

A touching, bitter-sweet story with moments to make you laugh and cry in equal measure, and a talented cast at the helm. China Plates and Pearl Earrings has been produced by Maureen O’Neill who has established Viaduct Theatre in an effort to bring professional fringe theatre to Stockport - if this is the calibre of theatre being produced then we all need to support and encourage this venture.

Reviewer: Becky Mottershead

Reviewed: 17th July 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★★