It is Christmas 1999 – the last Christmas of the last millennium, just before the world rang in Y2K. A youngish woman has moved in with an older lady, as a paid assistant providing companionship over the festive period. As the narrative continues, the women share the stories of their lives, of what has led them to here and the traumas from their pasts. In a thrilling solo performance, Amy Molloy captivates the audience with a tale of love and loss, crime and redemption – all over the tinkle of a broken tea set.
With the new millennium looming, the second half of 1999 had an added significance for most of the world – but especially for the elderly Mrs A, who’s lived through a traumatic ‘incident’. The old woman’s daughter, however, is unperturbed by her mother’s situation, and wants to see in the new century in the Caribbean. Molloy's character has come to keep Mrs A company in her daughter’s absence – but not without baggage of her own. She has had a recent traumatic experience, lost her own mother, and decided to take this job to have something to do over the holidays.
Mrs A is grateful enough, but also has other plans. And as she confides her own story – the loss of her husband, the eventual alienation of her daughter, and the final straw, a break-in – the audience is led to sympathise with her loneliness, and understand the bleakness she sees in her own future.
Mrs A gives her companion a tiny doll’s tea set, which she had bought for her own daughter many Christmases ago. It breaks, and it is the fragility of this tea set that brings out the frailty of old age – indeed, of all human life. It is a beautiful central theme for the story. ‘Made in hina’, it says, once they try to glue it back together, the missing C reflecting the loss of everything that we cannot hope to hold on to.
Commanding the stage in a solo performance is no mean feat, but Molloy brings perfection to the role of the companion. Her cheeks flush; her eyes glisten with tears, and they dim over as she recalls the darker parts of her story. The emotions on the face are writ clearly and the audience can visualise an entire story through her eyes – as she sits at a solitary table with the broken pieces of china and a stick of glue, trying in vain to bring some order back into the melancholy and the void.
There were occasional moments when I felt the one-woman format belied the contrasting nature of the two characters’ traumas, but that is a small want from an otherwise perfect production. Teaset is definitely one of the strongest performances at this year's Fringe, both in terms of power of script and force of acting. The publicity trumpets praise for Amy Molloy from veterans like Alan Rickman – and that support is clearly not unfounded.