Review: Manchester School Of Theatre present Picnic

  • On Thursday 16 November, students from Manchester School of Theatre opened their final year production of Picnic
  • Melissa Svensen went along to review

Never has a play had me so consistently on the verge of tears – both from laughter and from hard-hitting raw emotion. Yet, once the shaky mid-western accents (we’ll blame first night nerves) subsided, the Manchester School of Theatre students managed it as they took over Home theatre for the opening night of Picnic.

Picnic, director Stefan Escreet told me between countless congratulations at the end of the show, was chosen for its “sufficiently interesting parts for women,” – a result of writer William Inge’s growing up in a very female household.

Indeed, in Escreet and the School of Theatre’s version, these women are played pretty much faultlessly. Most notable is Megan McInerney, who in her portrayal of doting-but-firm mother Flo Evans deserves awards for her facial expressions alone (though her perfectly timed quips are more than welcome, too). That’s not to discredit the rest of the cast, however, as alongside Megan is a group of actors who seem far beyond their final year of university.

What’s perhaps most expertly portrayed in Picnic is relationships. From the odd, but lovable neighbour, Helen Potts, who spends a little too much time on their porch (played frantically, but fantastically by Gabrielle Woolner), to the over-inquisitive motherly tendencies of Flo these are all relationships we know well. Standing out is the relationship between Hal Carter (Rufus Cameron) and Alan Seymour (Robin Lyons), old college friends reunited when Hal turns up at Ms. Potts’ front door. From their giddy hugs, which turn swiftly to defensive handshakes, to snide remarks and underlying jealousy, Carter and Seymour no doubt remind the audience of their brothers, fathers and friends.

Another which harks especially true is the relationship between Flo’s daughters, Millie and Madge Owens. Taking seconds to go from scratching and biting, to giggling as they insult other girls they know, Millie and Madge’s relationship is the prime example of Inge’s 1950s setting translating seamlessly into 2017. I know far too well the confusion of declarations of hatred turning in minutes to blissful nail-painting sessions; of harsh insults turned adoring Instagram comments. Without modernising the play at all, the cast make a sweltering Labor Day in 1950s America sit perfectly with a 2017 Manchester audience.

Elsewhere throughout the play we’re introduced to all manner of characters – the unhinged, but hilarious and certainly well-meaning Rosemary Sydney (Madeleine Daly) and her unwitting future husband Howard Bevan (James King-Nickol), as well as Rosemary’s fellow teachers Irma Kronkite (Kayley McGowan) and Christine Schoenwalder (Maddy Wakeling). Each manages, even if just for a minute, to steal the stage, eliciting a chuckle or a twinge in the heart. Or, as they manage often, both at the same time. 

Climaxing in a furore of breakdowns and emotions, Picnic manages, in two hours, to make you feel as if you’ve really spent an entire Labor Day with this erratic group. And it’s all done from the comfort of a front porch.