Trash, Rosemary Branch Theatre

Two estranged sisters dig through a rubbish tip after their mother’s funeral. Recovering heroin addict Becky, in a moment of anger, had thrown away an unopened letter from their mother containing important information. Older, responsible Diane insisted they recover it, so here they are in their funereal finery, ankle deep in trash, full of hatred, resentment and grief. New company Indigo Iris, founded by actor-producers Emma Shenkman and Georgina Philipps, debut with Arthur M. Jolly’s Trash, a two-hander with potential for absurd situation comedy that instead plays it straight, focusing on the complexity of sisterhood and familial responsibility.

Trash is a well-constructed play driven by long-standing conflict between Diane (Emma Shenkman) and Becky (Georgina Philipps). Their mother’s illness tested daughterly obligation: Diane fulfilled it, but Becky refused to and ran away. They haven’t seen each other since. Diane’s resentment spews forth in relentless verbal attacks that Becky coldly thwarts. Occasionally, the violence turns physical, with great fight direction by Gordon Kemp.

This is a tense, wordy production but the energy is full on, particularly from Shenkman. Her vicious, relentless performance counters Philipps’ low-key character and keeps the audience’s attention. Both have a hard veneer that rarely cracks and is truthful to their situation, though more emotional range would have been welcome to break up the near constant anger. As such, sympathy for either woman is difficult to summon, even though Becky doesn’t seem to by lying about being clean and Diane clearly had more than her share of trouble caring for their dying mother over the last three years. The script steers clear of a formulaic narrative arc but still satisfies through a gradual information reveal and an ending open to several possible outcomes. It’s not a happy ending, but not a stalemate either and avoids sentimentality. These women are damaged, and it will take much more than an hour in a dump together to repair their relationship.

The set design is simple but effective. Filled bin bags and a load of other stuff cover the stage, with a backdrop of an ominous gray envelope. Its ever-present dominance is a powerful signifier of the control their mother still has over them in her last attempt at communicating with Becky before her death.

This would make a good touring studio production due to its universal conflict and small scale. Indigo Iris have good instinct for choosing a well written, showcase production. Hopefully they’ll continue their producing journey with more plays less familiar to the London fringe that focused on character relationships through solid, well-crafted scripts.

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