Elaine Murphy’s debut play has a simple conceit: three generations of one family’s women sharing, through interwoven monologues, the events and emotions of a year in their lives.
On a plain set, with nothing more than a beige carpet, a cream wall and simple lighting to illuminate whichever character is speaking, each of the trio tells their story of love, sex, families and growing up from their own viewpoint.
If it sounds simple, it is, but Murphy, director Paul Meade and actresses Sarah Greene, Amelia Crowley and Anita Reeves fill these characters with such warmth, sadness, complexity and reality that the audience needs nothing more than to hear them tell their stories.
Youngster Amber, played by the wide-eyed Greene, is fresh out of school and wrapped up in boys, friends and partying. She cringes at 30-somethings dancing to 80s pop and is full of youthful rage. She is a teenager pushing her boundaries, until she is forced to grow up too soon.
Single mum Lorraine (Crowley) has the weight of the world on her shoulders worrying about both her daughter and her parents, without allowing any time to worry about herself, until a psychiatrist directs her to do one nice thing for herself each week.
Grandmother Kay (Reeves) feels the effects of age, not in herself but in her husband, who has not been the same since a stroke. Hers may be the most touching of the three situations; a woman who has been with one man her entire life watching as he slips away from her.
What Little Gem lacks in complexity it makes up for in sweet, touching, slice of life truthfulness and plenty of inappropriate laughs that take the audience by surprise. The story of Kay’s trip to Ann Summers, in particular, is told with such naivety and innocence that it left me with a grin larger than the implement that left the grandmother so shocked.
Stories of sweaty rendezvous, nightclub bust ups and painful salsa experiences provide the humour which tempers the sadness and trouble that stalks each character. Though this sadness emphasises the harsh reality of life, Little Gem is ultimately an uplifting experience, leaving audiences with that warm feeling that comes with family.