With a simple red lit stage, containing just the four solitary characters and a chair for each, Peter Gill’s kitchen sink drama Small Change is a vivid portrayal of the relationship between two friends and their mothers, charting their evolving relationships from children to adulthood. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience at the Donmar Warehouse.
Set in 1950s working class Cardiff, Small Change concentrates on the sons of neighbouring families, Vincent (Luke Evans) and Gerard (Matt Ryan), and their mothers Mrs Harte (Sue Johnston) and Mrs Driscoll (Lindsey Coulson). The boys are introduced as competitive and affectionate friends, repeatedly causing their mothers to sit at home and worry as they disappear to the ambiguously located ‘out’, climbing trees and staring at the sun “to test their eyes”. As the play progresses we see their interaction as adults; they resort back to their childhood structure of speech, still talking in circles and declining to go for drinks because they have to go home so their mother doesn’t murder them.
In the very act of growing up and in turn away from each other, an innocence between Vincent and Gerard is damaged in a way that leaves the men struggling to form relationships in their adult lives. Gerard is unable to connect with women after his childhood adoration for Vincent, whereas the latter has become the absent father they both experienced in their youth.
The mothers are a constant presence in their sons’ lives–physically they never leave the stage, always in the background. They are contrasting characters; Mrs Harte is tough and hard done by, while Mrs Driscoll, with her shot nerves, is ultimately unable to cope with her life as a wife and mother. In the continually changing landscape outside their homes, these women are firmly stuck, both in their roles and in the houses they are destined to live and die in.
The conversation between characters is regularly cut off in order for a character to deliver a monologue, often telling a story out of sequence before returning to it later, adding in missing details until the audience is given access to the true sequence of events. These are the moments where the bare stage begins to take form with poetic descriptions of landscapes and memories.
Playing until 31 May, Small Change is a compelling and evocative play, demonstrating the tragedies that can occur by letting things go unsaid.