Review: Trestle, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re not here forever. You’ve got to take a chance from time to time. Sometimes you’ve got to see something you like and grab hold. Don’t let it go.”

Unforgivably late, I made it along to Trestle for its final matinee – too late to be able to recommend it to all and sundry but delighted to find it sold out and packed to the rafters in the Southwark Playhouse’s Little space. Written by Stewart Pringle, this two-hander is the 2017 Papatango New Writing Prize winner and tacks rather hard away from both Papatango’s tendency towards the bleakly dystopian and Pringle’s previous output as a writer.

For Trestle is beautifully tender and warm, the kind of play you imagine Victoria Wood heartily approving of as it tracks the burgeoning relationship between Harry and Denise, two retirees struggling to find their place in the world. Their paths cross as their regular bookings at the village hall border onto each other – as his council meetings finish up, her Zumba classes are about to begin and in the moments inbetween, as they share the putting away of tables and chairs, they slowly get to know each other.

It is a cleverly worked format, the 20-some conversations we witness are pretty much the sum total of their interactions, hovering somewhere between romance and friendship, between easy chat about sandwich fillings and profound misunderstandings that cut deep. And the faintly bittersweet tinge of Cathal Cleary’s production speaks volumes about the awkwardness of real life, how difficult it can be to break old patterns in pursuit of something new.

Gary Lilburn and Connie Walker do wonders with the economy of Pringle’s dialogue, building lifetimes of love and loss out of piecemeal conversations, and thus ensuring total engagement with their characters and investment in whatever it is that is happening. His bruised widower delighted and discombobulated by her vivacity, her pragmatic go-getting certainty tested a little by the closeness that develops. Imbued with melancholy but crackingly funny too, Trestle is a real minor-key gem. 

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 25th November

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