Turkey; noun, something that is extremely or completely unsuccessful, especially a play or film. A brave title for Frankie Meredith’s first full length play. But it becomes apparent within the opening minutes that this show is anything but a Turkey. Under boughs of leaves and branches strung from the ceiling Toni and Madeline are going about starting a family. Madeline will have a baby, and she’ll do anything to get it. ‘Turkey’ is a short, punchy and heartfelt examination of one couples desire for a child, the complexity of sexuality, the ethics of motherhood, and ultimately life and death.
These themes are delved into sensitively but bravely. Madeline’s sexuality is a point of contention at times, as a woman in a lesbian relationship with past heterosexual relationships, she initially refuses to identify as a lesbian, and then, after having sex with a man, adamantly admits that she is a lesbian despite his protestations. This confusion around sense of self and identity appears in other subtle ways; for example, Madeline’s determination that the baby be born with someone’s sperm who they know.
There is a running conflict between Madeline and her partner Toni concerning the ethics of motherhood and the duty of parents. Madeline is all about obeying your own desires and Toni is considering the greater picture. As Toni says, ‘Children need more than love’. Which yes, is not perhaps the reaction one would want when you’re asking someone to start a family with you. But for a lot of young people today this is a major concern and factor when considering whether or not to have kids. It should surely be our duty to know that we can provide financial support, shelter, and education for our children. But despite this it is also valid for Madeline to want to be a mother and be determined to make it work, and at 32 she feels she has waited long enough and the time is now.
Most striking to me was the cyclical and interconnectedness that life and death have in this play. It is a hard thing for a show to be about life and death, and often if someone says to me, ‘oh it’s about life and death’, I do an internal eye roll. But ‘Turkey’ succeeds in taking life and death in all it’s great cosmic scale and reducing it down to three normal people in a not so normal situation, while losing none of the power and poignancy of great tragedies. Madeline’s late ex-boyfriend Ben is a profound presence, as is the baby that is yet to be conceived. Life and death, although not tangibly present, are constantly thrumming through every scene of the play.
The performances were strong all round, with all three actors bringing out the light and shade of their characters. Peyvand Sadeghian as Madeline is likeable and charismatic, and despite her manipulative side, is clearly very full of love for Toni, Michael and his son Ben. She had an ease and understatement about her that was refreshing and compelling to watch.
Harriet Green as Toni can at times be prickly, even abrasive, but is very clearly in love with Madeline. It’s her naturalism on stage that makes her storyline utterly, utterly heartbreaking, and ends up making her probably the most sympathetic character. A strong, smart and committed young woman, whose heart gets broken. Watching Green play it, like any great piece of acting, one is reminded of those romantic traumas from one’s own past.
Robertson as Michael is the definition of ‘a decent sort of bloke’; he is kind, warm, and full of love for Madeline and grief for his son. A university lecturer, a man with a great mind, but is manipulated by Madeline and Robertson. He plays the turn from delight to horror delicately, brimming with emotion, but never sentimentality.
Turkey is one of those plays that is simultaneously incredibly easy and incredible difficult to watch. The writing sweeps you along through each scene, switching quickly from charming romance, to black comedy, to menace and tension and ultimately heart break and betrayal. You can’t stop watching, although sometimes you wish you could when the pain of the characters is so palpable. It has it all, and thanks to brilliant direction, and an eminently talented cast this show is something truly special.
Directed by Niall Phillips
Written by Frankie Meredith
The Hope Theatre
25th September – 14th October
Get your tickets here – https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/196962
Verity Williams is a poet, actor, playwright, dog enthusiast and committed gin drinker (not necessarily in that order). Born and raised in Dorset, Verity has a BA in English and Drama from Royal Holloway, an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa and an MA in Acting from East 15. @Verity_W_