Review: Walden (Trafalgar Releasing, online)

Twin sisterhood, space, and the uncertain near future are at play in Amy Berryman’s debut play, Walden, which recently enjoyed a run on stage as part of the Re:Emerge season at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Now, it resurfaces in a filmed version to be released in cinemas on Wednesday.

This is a three-hander, with Gemma Arterton and Lydia Wilson as the twins (Stella is a failed NASA architect, now resolutely anti-technology; Cassie is a star astronaut always on the news and fresh from a year spent on the moon). Fehinti Balogun is Bryan, Stella’s fiance who she prefers to block out than let in.

There is so much to play with here – not just the fact that twins who grew up, literally, together from the moment of conception, are so much in synergy and competition, but also the fact that the climate and the world in which all three exist appears to be slowly disintegrating. We hear occasional birdsong, thanks to Emma Laxton’s atmospheric sound design, (which also brings lashings of rain) and there are moments of breath and closeness between the sisters that emphasise their connection.

Ian Rickson directs and handles the simmering tension and sibling affection (‘Lalla and P” are their childhood names for each other). The pull between the natural: Stella and Bryan grow their own vegetables and even capture the invading deer for meat; Cassie consumes processed meals and high-energy packets.

Gemma Arterton and Lydia Wilson in Walden

Is is hard to define which is the most dominant sister watching this piece (and you can see every expression close-to, just as if you were in the best seats at the theatre). I liked the subtlety of lights in the eyes as Cassie and Bryan look up at the moonlight. I switched my views on Cassie so many times during this play. Is she a Blanche type a la Streetcar Named Desire here to cause problems for her sister’s relationship? Is she genuinely concerned that the sister she followed and then eclipsed is wasting her life living a life of “earth advocacy”?

Whether Stella and Bryan have an healthy relationship isn’t that clear. He appears warm enough, but also dismissive of Stella’s talent and coercive in quashing her scientific ambitions. And is trapping a live animal to eat really the best way of saving the climate and managing the ecosystem? Why are both sisters as fragile as glass and unable to tell each other how they really feel?

This is a completely successful piece of digital theatre, pulling us right into the action and enhancing the intellectual and intense script the actors have to work with. All three are excellent, but they also succeed in building barriers between each other that may, or may not come crashing down. A compelling production from start to finish.

Image credit: Johan Persson

Walden, presented by Sonia Friedman Productions, is released in selected cinemas nationwide from 8 September. You can purchase your tickets here.