Powerful play about broken women and shattered dreams triumphs at Burnley Youth Theatre (Burnley Express Review of ‘Small Histories’: 10th July 2019)

A powerful play depicting the shattered dreams of strong yet broken women proved to be a triumph for a former Burnley actress.

Small Histories – an elegant exploration of love, dreams, identity and family – showcased the talents of Salford-based performer Kailey McGowan.

Kailey cut her teeth in the drama world by playing in shows at Burnley Youth Theatre but she has since blossomed into a fine professional actress with a wide repertoire of skills, nailing both her comical and tender scenes.

In Small Histories, which finished its Northern tour with a showing at Burnley Youth Theatre, Kailey starred as the youngest of the clan, 21-year-old Jessica.

As the character pores over a suitcase of old, inherited items, the heart-breaking lives of her female ancestors’ dance around her.

The production is the brainchild of writer and producer Mark Murphy, who co-founded Out of Kilter Theatre Company.

Mark has beautifully woven together several upsetting and uplifting snapshots of six women’s lives into one stunning collage.

Balancing tenderness with comical clout, his tale presents six generations of women in the Aspinall family.

Spanning 100 years from the final months of World War One to the present day, it reflects the historical changes in equal rights affecting both women and the LGBT community.

Using a vibrant palette of monologue, dialogue, music and physical theatre, Mark paints a striking picture of love and loss, allowing the audience to understand the joy and suffering of these characters in a way that words alone cannot always sufficiently express. And it makes for a potent emotional blow.

The job of executing his vision belonged to director Kerry Kawai, who expertly brought life to these interesting characters, arranging song, speech and physical theatre into a gorgeous dance.

This combination was perhaps at its most successful during depictions of mental illness.

As vulnerable young mother Cora, actress Rianna Windust offered a moving and polished portrayal of a woman drowning under the wave of mental illness, at a time when it existed under a shroud of shame and was widely misunderstood by the general public.

Credit must go to Mark for sensitively depicting the devastating grip of mental illness.

Emily Heyworth did a terrific job of playing closeted lesbian and Cora’s daughter, Loretta, who feels unfulfilled by the role of motherhood while carrying the pain of unspoken love and unrealised ambition.

Meanwhile, Maddie Wakeling tenderly revealed the grief of Loretta’s grandmother Maggie, who lost her first love to the First World War.

Nancy Monaghan gave a strong performance of Loretta’s daughter Helen, a mother fighting for her dreams.

And completing the cast was Lindsay Eavis, who starred as Constance, the eldest female in the family. The actress gently explored the isolating heartache of ageing.

Finally, kudos must also go to technician Shaquille Walfall for finishing touches that heightened the production’s emotional potency.

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