Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Killing Time

Zoe Mills
Word Mills Productions and Dead Letter Perfect
The Lowry, Salford
15 March 2017 to 18 March 2017

The low droning sound of a cello is deeply mournful which makes it the perfect instrument to set the tone for a new play Killing Time that features themes of mortality and remembrance.

Hester (Brigit Forsyth) is terminally ill and passes her time getting drunk, watching trashy TV and ignoring the concerns of her long-time friend George (Robin Herford). She has to come to terms with the fact that she is likely to be remembered less for her career as a cellist and more for an affair she had when younger. Sara (Zoe Mills who wrote the play) is an ambiguous figure, who might be an inept social worker or an angel of death; and intrudes upon Hester’s increasingly squalid existence.   

Although Killing Time is a short play it feels padded. The first Act in particular drifts until Sara enters and then becomes a series of blunt discussions on regret for choices made, the legacies one leaves behind after death and the trivial nature of modern memorials recorded on social media. There are a great many topics and few are explored in any depth being mentioned rather than debated.

The motivation of the characters is muddled. The revelation about Sara’s past is so extreme that it really ought to be reflected in her behaviour but Zoe Mills portrays the character in a dippy manner that makes one doubt she could be capable of violent acts.

Director Antony Eden sets an uneven tone. The meandering first Act is followed by a second that moves towards, but does not commit to, black comedy. The effect is to leave the audience in the awkward position of being uncertain whether to laugh aloud or to ponder the points being made. It is a highly visual production with filmed inserts of the characters projected onto the walls making a startling impact although the purpose of the revolving stage is hard to ascertain.

Brigit Forsyth steps well outside her well-known TV roles - Hester is a character who, while it is possible to understand, is not easy to like as she is driven to childish behaviour by her desperate circumstances. Not content with simply acting Forsyth also plays the cello live throughout and the score includes one of her own compositions.

Killing Time offers the opportunity to see a well-established actor stretch beyond her perceived boundaries but does not really tackle the weighty issues that are raised by the script.

Reviewer: David Cunningham


Comment by Diana Stenson

It is a known secret that Brigit Forsyth is a talented cellist and composer and we have been waiting several years for a play that gives her virtuosity an opportunity, which "Killing Time" does.   She is the cantankerous old biddy (Hester) in a tiny apartment with the cello as centrepiece.  And what about all those carboard boxes crammed with "no use now" belongings, usually announcing an imminent move on - in this case more imminent than she wants to admit but the Rioja helps.  The playwright is Forsyth's own daughter, Zoe Mills, who happily does not resemble her mother atall - which would be confusing as she also takes on the role of Sara, the social worker, who nobody requested.  Their two characters work together comfortably as one would expect of family but Sara has a thankless role as she tries to smooth Hester's path while Hester delivers the most withering put-downs.  There is much cut and thrust here but not enough light and shade to deal with the knowledge of imminent death from cancer.  

Surprisingly  this is not a bleak or depressing work and the cello sessions lend welcome and contemplative interludes towards the inevitable.