Produced by Ferment, a developmental project of theatre makers based at Bristol Old Vic, “The Window” is a 60 minute performance that explores aging, loneliness and societal obligations in a modern world where the concept of “community” often merely evokes a nostalgic pang of long gone togetherness. With the female protagonist’s desire to have “nothing to do with the neighbours,” we begin on a misanthropic keel before rather more ambivalent emotions are highlighted within the changing circumstances of the narrative.
Performed as a monologue by Charlotte Melia on a minimalist stage set up of illuminated window frame and solitary chair, we follow the story of an unnamed, pregnant woman who has just moved to Bristol with her partner Nath. As the couple prepare for the arrival of their first child, a decision is made to brighten up their home by altering the kitchen from the “Black hole of Calcutta” to “Notre Dame” by fitting a new window. It is through this new installation that we become acquainted with next door neighbour Ted, an elderly man who loses his wife to cancer. Initially wary of her neighbours, the new outlook on to Ted’s existence as a struggling widower induces compassion and the hand of friendship is extended.
With visits to each other’s houses, a gift of a set of spoons and a growing fondness of Ted’s “full-hearted” nature, the writing and nature of the performance in the opening third seem to echo an affectionate Alan Bennett style nod to the downtrodden and vulnerable (Melia’s garb of burgundy T-Shirt, beige cardigan, jeans, socks and ever present mug of tea certainly seem an effort to connote prosaic working-classness); however, an inappropriate act from Ted provides an unexpected plot development and a “What happens next?” urgency that delivers the monologue from its relatively pedestrian beginnings.
The rest of the show deals with the fall-out from this incident as Melia’s character grapples with an anger and embarrassment that is tempered by a guilt forged by her recognition of Ted’s loneliness and frailty. Oscillating between ranting indignation, cutting sarcasm and equivocal contrition, she struggles with both her instinctive dislike of the situation Ted has created and a feeling of duty towards a sick, infirm man without companionship.
Melia’s impressive performance is unwavering but devoid of a cloying intensity that would’ve detracted from the kitchen sink realism of the show. Under the direction of Lee Lydford, she ably demarcates dialogue between characters with subtle changes of vocal tone and, in the case of neighbour Meredith, a West Country inflection. Though helped along by a musical accompaniment written by Timothy X Atack, the faint tinkering of piano keys and soft percussion add little to the performance and go largely unnoticed.
With its thematic ambitions, “The Window” is a thoughtful piece of work and it largely succeeds in saying what it intends to say. As moments that appear too incidental in comparison to the main narrative involving Ted, perhaps more could’ve been made of the protagonist’s own sense of isolation from the world and insecurity as a new mum; within a context of mutual need rather than obligation, her friendship with Ted maybe could’ve been afforded an extra poignancy. The story’s most striking theme is within the closing predications that there is “value in a solid wall” and that some things “best remain unseen”; this is an arresting comment on the confines of altruism and that empathy can only really be managed within the narrow parameters we choose.