Review: RATSociety 'Crimes of the Heart' by Leah Grant

Photo by Jake Green

Photo by Jake Green

RATSociety: Crimes of the Heart at Lansdown Hall, Stroud Friday 12th February 2016

Across the Valentines weekend, the Lansdown Hall was transformed into the Mississippian home of Old Granddaddy Magrath as it became the backdrop for a reunion that was as explosive as it was funny. 

Performed by six members of RATSociety (Ruscombe Amateur Theatre Society) and directed by professional actor Susan Lynch, this version of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart wasted no time in setting the scene. On arrival, music from the era catapulted the audience into 1970s Deep South America and as the lights dropped, a crescendo of radio reports cleverly established the conflicts of the period.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Crimes of the Heart focuses on Lenny, Meg and Babe Magrath, three sisters who congregate at their family home following the shooting of Babe’s husband, Zackery Botrelle. What follows is a complex study of sisterhood, one which is not only influenced by external conflicts (such as racial tension and social prejudice), but by the inner turmoil of a shared tragedy. Throughout the play, the suicide of their mother hangs over the three women, unifying and dividing them in equal measure, and the ability of the small cast – particularly the three sisters – to communicate this particular thread of the story with sensitivity and tact is credit to both the actors and to the director.

It was clear from the start that this production wasn’t just a labour of love but the result of months of hard work and collaboration; the carefully thought-out music, the elaborate set design and the newspaper/programme that ran alongside the production, were proof that the cast and crew had considered every aspect of the show from an audience’s perspective, but it was in one area in particular that RATS really excelled. To convey a Southern American accent without sounding like a poor imitation takes some serious skill and to drop it, even for a second, would instantly take the audience out of the story. But the actors seemed to pick up the rhythmical elements of the dialect with ease, each imbuing their character with a lilt that aptly reflected their on-stage persona and in doing so, created a world that was both absorbing and believable.

Producing a play as multi-layered and as relevant as Crimes of the Heart is no small feat, but in sharing the same desire, the same motivation, RATSociety have brought to the stage a production that we can all be proud of. 

Leah Grant is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in art and literature. On her blog, Bellyful of Art, you can find reviews of exhibitions, installations, dance performances and literary events as well as her own lovingly created pieces of short fiction

Pick up a copy of issue #11, February 2016 (out now) for Leah's interview with Susan Lynch