Sunday 21st April 2019
Rushen Players presents:
Last Train to Nibroc by Arlene Hutton
For the second night of the 2019 Easter Festival of Plays, we saw Last Train to Nibroc, performed by the first Manx theatre company of the week, Rushen Players. Their adaptation was directed by Susie Beswick and starred Saoirse Coyle-Carroll as May and Nathan Rae as Raleigh.
Hutton’s drama tells the story of two train passengers from neighbouring towns near the Appalachian Mountains in 1940s America. The train just so happens to have the dead bodies of American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West traveling in tow. Religious and studious May has recently completed her education and wants to become a missionary, returning via train from California after visiting her ‘intended’ partner. While on board she meets Raleigh, a confident and charming pilot who is headed to New York City to become a writer. It is on this journey that we first see a glimpse of the relationship which will form over the next three years.
The characters’ performances were strong from the very beginning, Saoirse’s well-composed body language and costume depicting May as woman of high principles. Raleigh’s charisma was well played by Nathan, who was actually called in at short notice, to replace Michael Williams due to a family bereavement. No one would have been able to tell that he had only 18 days to learn the script and rehearse, as his delivery and accent were spot-on.
During the first scene we got to know that May is a grammar fanatic, regularly correcting the young pilot’s vocab – “You saw, not seen.” Raleigh had many comedic lines where he poked fun at May’s religious reading choices, compared with his love of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West, speaking passionately about his love of writing. He expressed to May how the only time he can become a writer in New York is now, responding to her questions about why he doesn’t want to go home, “Home will always be there.” He goes on to explain how he was discharged from the army due to fits, which we later discover is due to his epilepsy.
Perhaps it is this which has made Raleigh realise that “things are affected by other things.” May showed vulnerability when her future husband’s name is mentioned, as Raleigh met him when they were in the army, saying, “He’s different, he’s changed.” When Raleigh turns her phrase on her and says that perhaps she has also changed during the train journey, she doesn’t agree. Raleigh’s line about how “everything’s changing, everyone’s on the same train, hoping to get somewhere and don’t fall off the track” was delivered with emotive substance from Nathan, as well as “giving up on a dream for another is brave.” It is his assurances to May that she is brave for travelling alone from Kentucky to California and back again that we realise that he really admires her, despite knowing her for only a few hours. This is further demonstrated in Raleigh’s playful jest at May for becoming feisty in her remarks back to him, before the end of the first act: “I do like it’s bark.”
Act Two opens with a different setting from the previous train carriage, transporting us to Corbin 1941, in the woods where the Nibroc Festival Raleigh persuaded May to go to for the first time is being held. May, in a well-presented costume appeared to be wanting a moment to herself when who comes along but Raleigh. We discover that he’s come back from New York City, jobless and isn’t pleased with the Nibroc Festival – “I just know what the festival used to be.” Their encounter has an underlying friction beneath, as it’s revealed that the two were in contact whilst in different cities, with May not writing back to Raleigh’s last postcard – “I’ve been busy doing a lot of things.”
The characters shared a history over the past year, with Raleigh annoyed that May seems to be courting a preacher. May’s strong sense of wanting to do right when she explains how the preacher has been keeping money donated to the church for himself came across well in Saoirse’s performance. The two actors played-out a strongly staged scene in which the two bicker passionately, with Raleigh retorting, “I’m sorry I ever rode a train with you at all.” May feels remorse for being so unkind to Raleigh when mentioning his father being crippled, declining eating at his family home, and seemingly mocking his epilepsy, expressing her true feelings for him more: “I’m not a very nice person sometimes. I feel ashamed.” To which Raleigh responds with an emotive and self-loathing speech about feeling ashamed of his life thus far. The scene ends with Raleigh having a fit and May running off.
In the final scene, we are transported to 1943, where it’s night-time and the use of hanging lanterns are used in a creative way to signify a starry night. May and Raleigh are sat together on her front porch, with effective use of amber lighting to show a far-away burning fire. Raleigh and May appear to have just had dinner, with Raleigh wearing a suit which is much different to his overalls in the last scene. Both exchange affectionate phrases about being friends, with May insisting that “It’s good to talk about it with a friend,” and Raleigh asking poignantly, “Are you my friend?”
We saw how the two really felt about each other when Raleigh gives May an early birthday present – a book that he’s read. May then reveals how she wants to look after him when he is ill, thinking that his illness is leprosy and not epilepsy – “I want to take care of you.” This eventually leads her to admitting that she wants to marry him, and Raleigh playfully asks her to after teasing her about misunderstanding his illness. He reveals how he truly feels for her, admitting that he’s overwhelmed by her feelings for him. Raleigh persuades May to elope with him and the couple finally end-up in each other’s arms after three years of geographic and emotional distance.
For a play which has only two actors, the production was well-staged and the minimalistic but creative set was enough to establish the character’s strong and often humorous performances throughout the different locations. A thoroughly enjoyable story was told and comments from the adjudicator, Jill Colby, were mostly favourable.