It is a real shame when the press release has a much better play than the one you see on stage. Paperclip Theatre Company‘s Dandelion is a story we don’t hear enough about; the people affected by Clause 28 when it came into force in 1988 (before eventually being removed 15 years) later which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, its arrival during the AIDS crisis was poorly timed.
Jennifer Cerys’ Dandelion as an idea is great; one teacher and one pupil wrestling with their sexuality and society in the shadow of Conservative policies but for every burst of potential in this play something disappointing comes along. For every great performance such as Ann (Chaiyan Chambers-Paul), a teacher coming to terms with her sexuality and unable to stick up for bullied pupils as well as her own ostracising from her family, there are some pretty poor performances from others.
For every detail about Ann and Mary’s (Orla O’Sullivan) relationship there is an incredibly weak storyline involving Claire (Abbie Browing) and Erica (Natasha Stevens) who were marketed as being integral to this storyline and barely featuring, it is a shame not to see more of contrast/comparison between two women struggling with their sexuality at different times in their life.
The decision to have such a large cast with actors often playing one part felt amateurish, the actors could have easily doubled up and it suggests that there wasn’t enough rehearsal time. Kimberley Jarvis doubles as Ann’s judgemental sister Edith and also directs this production and her performance often feels at odds with everyone else’s and the school girls’ are directed in a way that suggests the play is set now, not 1988. It feels a waste as so much has gone into the authenticity with costumes and the set design sparkles blue to show we are by the sea but the script constantly refers to a seaside town; maybe using the word Margate would help give a sense of time and place.
Cery’s script has a lot of potential, the relationships between Ann and Mary are well written but there seem to be lots of unnecessary plot points, such as the romance between the headteacher Mr Barnes (Matilda Wood) and Mrs Taylor (Katie Shalka) but ultimately she needs to choose what story she tells, find actors that can represent those characters better and expand the characters that work into a fully fledged and emotional production. As similar language is used around the Trans people and the charity Mermaid’s work Cery’s is in a great position to show whilst some things have changed, some things will never change.
Dandelion was on at King’s Head Theatre on 16-17 December