Ten Tiny Toes

Written by Esther Wilson
Directed by Polly Teale
Everyman Theatre (13th June - 5th July 2008)

Reviewed by Amanda DeAngeles

Not about a baby, but about her babies - now grown-up sons who want to stand tall and strong without their mother’s help. The lads will always be her babies.

Esther Wilson, writer of this remarkable play - which has been brought to life by director Polly Teale - has swiftly stolen all the stages I’ve seen so far in this year of celebration and culture. The mega-talented cast deliver an often funny, but intensely sad tale of a Liverpool family torn apart by the not-war war of 'peacekeeping' in Iraq.

Here we have a condensed version of events since the search began for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. This includes a cinema screen backdrop littering intermittent newsreel, of which we are all familiar.

This true story, conveniently ignored by those whose lives are untouched, is at last screamed loud enough to be heard.

A Liverpudlian myself, I’m pleased to confirm to you that dialogue is definitely spot-on. I laughed along with everyone else, but realised my immune head was slowly being lifted from its long burial in the sand.

Emotional horror of war is undeniable here; as it is cleverly integrated with an appropriate balance of humour, enabling the viewer to find a parallel of self in any of the few characters and to not look away. Unspoken bouts of seriousness configure snappy twists of laughter into a ringing wake-up call.

A solemn clanging of a hand-bell is followed by a crier’s announcement of soldier’s battalion, rank, name and age when killed. This is a resounding theme from Joanna Bacon who plays protestor Maya Johnson.

What does all this mean to a Liverpudlian mother who, with ferocious pride, has a primitive sense to protect her sons? Gill Kent (played by Lisa Parry) is the type of mum who would make a world leader cower in a corner. A complex, formidable role, beautifully acted.

Disillusioned dad turns to drink. Mike Kent (Barry McCormick, who also plays uppity Colonel Weston) is a failure of a peacekeeper in the family home. He is a deliberately understated figure throughout the first half; effectively suppressing his feelings in order to avoid conflict with his wilful wife. However, he gives a terrifically moving portrayal of a desperate dad as the plot unfolds to cause an eruption of those suppressed feelings.

We are treated to a lively interaction throughout from lead actors David Lyons and Joe Shipman, playing older brother, Michael, and younger, Chris, respectively. They excel in performance of equally challenging roles. I hope they will receive the wide acclaim they deserve.

Going off on a tangent from the main thread, we have a glimpse of the ever-typical military family class division, a daring debateable suggestion of diligent peace protestors conjuring a futile party atmosphere, and finally, probably most importantly, a feature of how mobile or internet communication allows anyone, from mother to soldier (via satellite technology) to interpret or misinterpret the changing face of war, by the push of a button.

One emotionally bombed family copes with tragedy while the rest of us eat our daily bread, read our daily papers, and have our daily moan about the cost of oil, and high taxation.

Ten Tiny Toes received the standing ovation it truly deserved. I hope you manage to get your ticket

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