Review by Harry Bower
Part of the Main is a theatre company which champions new writing and having experienced their excellent Bloody Mary: LIVE! show at VAULT Festival a few weeks ago I was excited to watch their latest creation; The Tinker.
Watching something new is always a fun adventure and I wholeheartedly admire those who craft something from nothing, spinning new tales and experimenting with formats. To write any original piece of theatre takes guts and imagination. It is particularly difficult to create something which is sure of itself and its direction and brings all of its audience along for the ride. Unfortunately, The Tinker is an example of a show which rather leaves us behind as it explores an incomplete and somewhat erratic narrative.
Evelyn and Frank Cooper (Lauren O’Leary and Keon Martial-Phillip) are husband and wife who have moved from the city to a giant and previously abandoned country estate following the disappearance of their young child. In the length of one stormy winter’s evening their life is turned upside down by the appearance at the door of a stranger. The Tinker, played with a soft Irish lilt by Giles Abbott, shows up with his horse and carriage looking for shelter. It is soon revealed that the Tinker has with him a child and, well, I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this.
The couple’s relationship is imperfect with plenty of tension which is portrayed admirably by their actors. O’Leary’s Evelyn is nervous and vulnerable with a soft and delicate voice that cracks with the emotion of child loss, visible across her face throughout. Her performance is one that leaves an impression on its audience, particularly in the latter scenes. The same can be said for Martial-Phillip who delivers as a cocky and assured Frank, a man with so many walls up he may as well be in a castle. The chemistry between the pair is strong and this proves to be the backbone of the narrative, a relationship which is stretched to breaking point and wrapped up in love, resentment and mistrust.
Abbott plays the titular character with a nervous disposition and a mysterious and sometimes frustratingly opaque front. He is clearly a natural storyteller and has charisma abound, though struggles in the first performance I was at with retention of his lines. This regularly brought the audience out of his world with a jolt, which is a shame given how well he seems to fit the role.
Newcomer Olivia Foan writes this show as a self-professed lover of interrogating animal aspects of human nature. The Tinker is designed to unravel cultural norms around morality and motherhood, and the automatic reaction we all have when encountering strangers. In some ways you could say that the play is a success in these regards, though in many others it is wide of its mark.
The Tinker himself is a confusing character, not least because that’s how he is written. In some mini monologues he darts from one idea or story to another and seems to have been created purely for the sake of nudging Evelyn and Frank into some sort of provocation at every stage rather than as a fully fleshed out character in his own right. For a show with a supposed theme of a stranger fixing things in return for a safe place to sleep, fixing things plays a surprisingly small role in the story. There is vagueness everywhere here.
The plot is reaching regularly for something that just isn’t there. Boring would be too harsh a word to use, but I wish there had been more of a journey in the first thirty five minutes. The second half of the hour is more interesting but the relatively static conversational scenes between the Tinker and one half of the couple (the couple rotating regularly) is an ineffective attempt to guide the audience to a conclusion without being explicit. At several stages I found myself questioning what was going on and not in an theoretical or existential way…more in a “I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here” sort of way.
It should be noted that The Tinker was part of the cancelled VAULT Festival in 2022, and that this outing is somewhat overdue for its writer and some of its cast. It’s possible that some of the show has been lost in translation in the year since, it certainly feels that way. I left the auditorium feeling a bit underwhelmed and as though this was a missed opportunity.
Much less was I questioning the morality of man, motherhood, and our animalistic nature, more whether I had somewhat missed the point. Maybe some of the show’s messaging was lost in translation with opening night jitters, or maybe I’m just not on the same wavelength. Either way, the show needs a lot of tinkering.
The Tinker plays at VAULT Festival this week only, until Sunday 19 Feb. Tickets available here: https://vaultfestival.com/events/the-tinker/