It’s always exciting to see a new independent theatre company spring up and announce a season of intriguing and challenging productions to entice an audience. Certainly Q44 Theatre Company is showing much promise for its inaugural season of four plays, kicking off with Edward Allan Baker’s Dolores – a bite-sized social realism drama featuring company founder Gabriella Rose-Carter.
Set in 1980’s Rhode Island, the eponymous Dolores is sister to Sandra an emotionally hardened mum who takes joy in the simple pleasures of her Sundays to herself. When Dolores (Nicole Melloy) appears on her doorstep sporting a black eye from the latest beating she has received at the hands of her husband and expects refuge, Sandra (Rose-Carter) initially gives no quarter. This is a pattern of behaviour for Dolores, having been in similar situations with her past two partners also, and Sandra doesn’t want to get involved.
Dolores’ persistent attempts to stop her sister from throwing her out provide opportunity for the injection of humour into what would otherwise be a very dark play and Melloy skilfully presents the woman as a funny and lovable character, rather than a victim.
This seamless use of comedy in the midst of what is essentially an examination of the generational effects of domestic violence is the beauty of Baker’s script. It creates a sense of comfort in ‘peering-in’ upon the lives of these women, before we’re hit with the truth of their past. Their father beat their mother and Sandra too experiences domestic abuse in her marriage. This provides opportunity for some highly emotional exposition, no doubt written with a challenge for actors in mind, Baker being a professor of playwriting at The Actors Studio in New York.
Both Rose-Carter and Melloy give truly connected performances, true to their training, providing gut-wrenching scenes of emotional outpouring. When Dolores believes she can hear her husband breaking into the apartment, she pulls out a gun, revealing the truth of her situation and setting the scene for a heart-wrenching conclusion.
Director Suzanne Heywood has her cast make constructive use of every element of the script in this brief 50-minute production. The sense of kinship between the two women is completely believable, reflecting the love/hate nature of sibling relationships. The quaint performance space, set very convincingly as an 80's apartment in both scale and dressing, is used organically and with pleasing mobility and potency.
There is a slight milking of the emotional opportunity afforded by the play’s coda in this particular presentation, perhaps due to the actors’ ability to show such depth of emotion, but it does leave the finale feeling a bit bloated and detracts somewhat from an otherwise fine production.
Certainly though, Dolores serves as an exciting appetiser for what this new company has in store with its upcoming three shows. It’s also worth noting that the venue Q44 Studios, while very out of the way – situated above In Vogue Blinds at 550 Swan Street in Burnley – are charming and offer a foyer that doubles as an art gallery for some additional cultural enrichment, so there’s no reason not to seek out this independent theatre newbie.