The Heart of Folk
Words by: Wendy Kay
The charming intimacy of the Ensemble Theatre is not often punctured by boisterous ballads. But lately this year, there have been some fine tunes bursting from the venue.
During April, we were treated to The Last Five Years, and opening last week was Folk, a simple tale about a trio of misfits separated by secrets, longing for kinship and finding it through song.
Not that Folk is a musical. The songs are just a symptom of alienation, a solitude borne from individual circumstances causing self-inflicted loneliness which isolates and impairs. But in typical Tom Wells style, a playwright inspired by the peculiarities of folk,
loners can be brought together by unusual triggers. Put the rambunctious Irish nun together with a reclusive dour Yorkshire man and a pregnant hopeful teenager, and the toes soon get a tappin’ as songs are belted out in a harmony not encountered in any of their troubled lives.
The story begins in the Yorkshire living room of Irish Nun Winnie (Genevieve Lemon) a pragmatic, albeit idealistic soul, with a heart as huge as her ample frame. Walking a fine line between faith and irreverence, she enjoys nothing more than a sneaky puff, a pint of Guinness and a folk song shared on Friday nights with her Stephen (Gerard Carroll), her more cautious and stuffy friend. Stephen, crushed by life’s disappointments, expects nothing more from it, his expectations relying solely on monotony and routine.
Enter Kayleigh (Libby Asciak), via a brick through the window. A bruised and rebellious local teen, Kayleigh becomes the third wheel, filling Winnie’s huge heart with purpose, while intruding on the obsessively protective Stephen and his tiny insular world.
It’s the music which not only pulls them together but also unravels their secrets, one-by-one. It’s also the magic of their music which inspires Winnie to integrate her little band of misfits into the community via a public performance. It’s Stephen’s worst nightmare, it’s Kayleigh’s chance to be noticed and accepted.
Playwright Tom Wells, who enjoys a reputation for infusing his flawed characters with dignity and truth, trips up this time with his interpretation of Kayleigh as a 15-year-old. While Asciak is indeed a troubled awkward teen, lost but desperate to be found, and her Yorkshire accent doesn’t miss a beat, even in song, her storyline strays off course, veering towards implausibility and leaving us with more questions than answers. A shame when you consider such a minor detail is capable of derailing such a good tale.
Right on point however is set and costume designer Hugh O’Connor whose parlour of lamps, mismatched cushions and a very busy salon rug emanates perfectly the dowdy warm ambience befitting humble country folk. Meanwhile Director Terence O’Connell manages to blend the cacophony of folk music with the intensity of human drama, leaving you not quite sure which actually came first. Does the music inspire the story, or does the story inspire the music? Either way, Folk will leave you as warm as Winnie’s parlour, full of hope for those who are lost and love for those who find them.
Folk can be seen at The Ensemble Theatre until May 31. Tickets range from $38-$78 and can be bought on line at boxoffice.ensemble.com.au
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