Theatre Review: Wishbone (Bread & Roses Theatre, London) ★★★

Is there anything worse that a difficult breakup? Perhaps having to spend seven days isolating with that person moments after telling them it is over. With strong performances and witty writing, Wishbone is a thoughtful examination of a relationship under extreme pressure.

The piece opens with an odd movement prologue, representing a party the two protagonists have attended the night before the action starts. Their costumes get in the way, and the dance lacks clear intention and feels somewhat awkward. Perhaps it is the space, as the set is realistically cluttered with the trappings of daily living, giving the performers a narrow area to work in. Once the actual play starts, however, we are introduced to lovers Ro and Ti, fully realised and complex characters that feel well drawn, rounded, and sincere.

Rosa Calcraft and Kaitlin Horton-Samuel in Wishbone. Photo credit: Coco Cottam.

The dialogue and relationship between the two central characters are the heroes of this play. Kaitlin Horton-Samuel gives a beautifully understated performance as Ro, a person who is so unsure of what she wants and how to make sense of her inner contradictions. The heartfelt, wholly relatable phone call she has to a friend outside of the isolation bubble is one of the most well-written and delivered moments of the piece. Bringing a totally different energy, Rosa Calcraft’s Ti is warm, playful and at times intentionally dramatic. Her attempts to change Ro’s mind about the breakup, to understand how this has happened, and to change the direction of travel are the engine of the play. Calcraft is also very funny, making full use of the dialogue alongside her physicality to inject comedy, pathos and a full narrative about her feelings through the medium of jam.  

Coco Cottam cleverly uses the seven day Covid isolation to trap the characters together, with no means of escape. This adds to the pressure cooker feel, with tensions boiling over and few outlets available. It feels like a missed opportunity in some respects that Cottam has not pushed this further, but perhaps she felt the tropes of lockdown baking and sourdough starters are already too well-worn. There is a nod to the joy of self-swabbing, which raises a laugh of recognition from the audience, but the period of waiting for the result lacks tension and the outcome is never really mentioned. Neither is ill, and there is no mention of any of their friends being unwell, so it feels like a device rather than a familiar setting.

Rosa Calcraft and Kaitlin Horton-Samuel in Wishbone. Photo credit: Coco Cottam.

The staging incorporates a sheet backdrop adorned with ribbons, which doubles as a screen for projections. These help to orient the action, showing the passage of time, and also allows for some hilarious photo and animation sequences that add a huge amount to the production. The scenes themselves are thoughtful and well-performed, however the transitions between them often feel a little clunky. Sections that took place on the floor were out of view of the majority of the audience, which was a pity, and perhaps could have been reworked for the space. At times, the actors seemed a little uncomfortable with the intimacy required, and some scenes needed a little more volume.

Overall, Wishbone does not feel fully realised, and at only 50 minutes long there was scope for much more exploration. That said, the piece is very enjoyable, and the interplay between the characters and the setting are incredibly relatable. Horton-Samuel and Calcraft are very compelling performers, and their characters’ emotional journey make this story universal.

By Deborah Klayman

Wishbone plays at The Bread & Roses Theatre, London on July 27th, 2023, then at Greenside @ Infirmary Street, Edinburgh from August 6th-12th, 2023.

Wishbone plays at Greenside @ Infirmary Street, Edinburgh from August 6th-12th, 2023.

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