'Thou met'st with things dying, I with things new-born' Act III, Scene III, The Winter's Tale
Notes to Future Self, presented by StudioSpace Bristol, is a play which uses very little space to approach very intense emotional themes. The stage is a narrow strip, decorated as an ethereal garden and is both intimate and eerie, hosting the backdrop for a play about a teenage girl dying of cancer. It’s a familiar story, with similar vibes as the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ and 'Before I Die’, however this story-line doesn’t rely on a male heartthrob to come and make it all ok. It’s performed by an all-female cast, which is quite refreshing when compared to the romanticism of cancer teen narratives that seem to be dominating popular culture at the moment. That said, some characters seem somewhat clumsy, and lack the depth I think is needed for such a sensitive topic.
The play opens with a burst of energy from Sophie – a dying thirteen year old who believes in reincarnation and is writing (surprise...) notes to her future self. It follows her, her free-spirited mother, archetypal grandmother, coming-of-age sister and their dysfunctional relationships as they learn to balance their lives and compromise amidst the tragedy of a terminal illness in the family. It’s engaging, immersive, all is well; then we meet Judy.
She comes across as a new-age hippie style mother struggling to ground herself. This is when I have a problem. Her hippy vibe is taken to such extremes that the character loses validity and she becomes more of a laughing stock. This is more a fault of the script than the actor; later on, Asha Osborne-Grinter delivers a powerful monologue expressing her nonchalant hopelessness. Her use of very emotive facial expressions finally allow us to feel some sympathy for her. Elysia Beaumont plays a very amusing, stereotypical grandma: the one who says ‘haven’t you grown?’ whenever you see her and gives you fifty pence to ‘buy yourself something nice’ whilst bumbling away in her own world. She provides some genuinely funny release from the building emotional tension, and I have to praise her comic squat and ungainly posture.
I feel that the ages of the characters are slightly off kilter in combination with the conversation topics. Having a sixteen/seventeen year old talking about losing her virginity doesn’t sit well with her behaviour in other scenes where she acts more like an immature preteen, whilst the thirteen year old Sophie flickers between swearing at her family and wanting bedtime stories read to her in a way that suggests that the play doesn’t quite grasp the complexity of being a young teenager. Aside from this, the play touches on some relatable themes. A standout for me is the moment when the two sisters start giggling when caught staying up at night chatting; their sisterly bond is effortlessly acted and the audience really empathise, sniggering at Grandma along with them. Towards the end, Sophie says: ‘Whoever you are future self, I hope you’re happy.’ I think this is something we all wonder about, and coming away from the play I found myself touched. We’ve all been through that uncertainty of growing up at such a confusing time, but normally without the prospect of death, and this gratitude for life is what the play draws upon best.
Ella Faye Howcroft