By Shannon Allanson
After a long day in the unpredictable wintery Mancunian weather on Friday, final year students from the Manchester School of Theatre transported a modest yet eager audience back in time and across the pond to the 1950’s American Mid-West for their recreation of the classic William Inge play, ‘Picnic’.
Written in 1953, Picnic features a strong female cast and explores the different relationships between women within a small Kansas community. Despite being set almost 70 years ago, this comedic yet moving production portrays the eternal struggle of choosing to follow your head or heart; a decision which is still highly relatable to a present day audience.
When talking about his creation, Inge confessed his inspiration for the story came from, “A memory of women- beautiful, bitter, harsh, loving, young, old, frustrated, happy- sitting on the front porch on a summer evening. There was something in that atmosphere, something I was to recreate, and that is how Picnic got underway”.
Performed on a traverse stage, the intimate show had the entire audience immersed in the action, whether through bursts of laughter or grimacing concern. No doubt proving the renowned quote “there are no small parts, only small actors”, the show boasted an inspiring cast who each used their impressive talent to bring the spectrum of different characters to life.
One character who particularly stood out throughout the two-hour performance was fiercely protective yet devoted mother Flo Evans, with her comical facial expressions and quick-witted personality; expertly played by Megan Mclnerney- who at one point had me reaching for the shows programme to ensure she was really a student and not a long-established professional actress.
However, Megan’s incredibly convincing performance is not to take away from that of the other performers who all came across as professional actors well beyond their third year of university. Although it would be impossible to accurately summarise the complexity of each character, those who certainly made their presence known alongside Megan include:
Helen Potts, (played by Gabrielle Woolner) the overly excitable busy-body neighbour with a heart full of gold and quirky one-liners.
Hal Carter, the plays resident bad-boy and love-interest who has all the women in a tizzy whether its because of his dashing good looks or mysterious beginnings; played by the brave Rufus Cameron who seemed only too comfortable on stage despite being half naked in numerous scenes.
Madge Owens, (played by Millie Gaston) who brought a touch of beauty and glamour to the cast which seemed to entrance all those who met her leading to a difficult decision between head and heart.
And last but certainly not least, Millie Owens (played by Zoe Villiers), the strong-willed young woman trying to decide between following her own path to university or that of her older sister’s who casts a rather large shadow.
Other notable characters include Rosemary Sydney (Madeleine Daly) a strong-willed teacher smiling through her troubles, her Mean-girl-like-trio friends Irma Kronkite (Kayley McGowan) and Christine Schoenwalder (Maddy Wakeling), Bomber/Howard Bevan (James King-Nickol), Rosemary’s ensnared husband-to-be (whether he likes it or not), and Alan Seymour (Robin Lyons) the seemingly all-round good guy- who Flo wants to marry Marge despite his lack of personality.
The Manchester School of Theatre’s version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning show was one William Inge himself would be proud of; from stage design to costume to the unique mid-western accents- the entire production was faultless.