Protecting the ones that you love and realising they sometimes have to learn the hard way are two of the main themes running throughout Because She Loved the Lion, a new piece from Lady Parts theatre that has just premiered at the Lantern Theatre and will soon travel down to the Brighton Fringe.
A concise and well-written three hander by Laura Kate Barrow, the play tells the story of Ella (Esther Dix), a young mum who can’t see the damage her abusive relationship is causing to her family unit – including her seven-year-old daughter Millie; and her protective more world-weary sister Sally (Sarah Keating).
The story is told through the rotation of three very different kinds of scenes – grown up chat between the sisters; day-to-day interaction between Millie and Ella; and the bedtime story about a mouse and a lion, which eventually becomes a monologue and allegory for the situation Ella finds herself in. Her partner (as absent on stage as he clearly is in his family’s lives) is a touring musician, seldom at home and clearly a bit too fond of drink and other women; she puts up with one excuse after another, until things begin to get physically violent.
Peter Mitchelson’s direction keeps a clarity between these regular shifts as well as a swift pace – the one-act play is an hour long and does a lot with the time.
Nuala Maguire shines as the bright and lovably precocious Millie, countering the kitchen-sink drama of the grown ups with an endearing and unselfconscious regressive performance – think young Mickey and Eddie in Blood Brothers. Barrow’s script is, as can be expected from her previous works, understated and nicely crafted, warm and wise.
The contrast between no-nonsense Sally, with her raucous kids and speak-as-I-find attitude and Ella, so desperate for a quiet life with the man she fell in love with, was realistic and convincing. The scenes addressing the revelation of the violence Ella had been trying so desperately to cover up were handled in something of a matter-of-fact way, and perhaps could have done with a little more tension. Something that leaped out and didn’t seem to be addressed was why three blood relatives all had such varying accents – a bit of suspension of disbelief is required there.
A memorable performance from Maguire is the highlight of this tender and very human production; Laura Kate Barrow continues to impress as a Liverpool playwright in the ascendent.