by Carmen Allan-Petale
Reply to: PO BOX 49 is a play about love. But it’s not your normal performance with two acts and a number of different scenes. I got my first hint of this on arrival when we were given a stone with a letter on it and told to hold onto it during the show.
When we mounted the stairs into the Battersea Mess and Music Hall, we were surrounded by five singing women dressed in fishing gear and holding lanterns. Walking through the choir, we entered the hall, bought a drink and then mingled in a room that resembled a pub with stalls in each corner selling cupcakes and clothes that you could try on if you fancied.
The lights dimmed and a boy entered the room and recited a poem which was a cross between an old tale and a hip hop verse – about his version of love.
There was a short break where the actors interacted with the audience. We were approached by the hostess who began asking questions about my life. Mentioning I was from Australia, she asked how long the journey took to get there. When I said 24 hours she exclaimed that it much be a super fast ship! That jarred a little but then I realised she was in period costume and it was a clue we were going to be transported through time. Indeed, playing around with different eras over the centuries was a major theme throughout the night.
Next the ‘fisherwomen’ struck up a harmony again before dividing us in groups according to the stones we received upon entry. Our group climbed stairs at the back of the hall into a small room where we experienced a scene between a mother and daughter. The mother, suffering from dementia, reminisced about her daughter’s father. The daughter had just ended a seven year marriage and becomes frustrated with her mother’s tales of romance. Nonetheless, she helps her mum sign up to a dating website in the hope that she’ll find a new love.
The two characters were very believable and although the scene was full of sorrow, in parts the audience laughed heartedly as the mother teased her daughter.
Next it was on to another room where three sisters from the 19th century were searching for a husband after their parents left them near destitute. Unable to afford three separate classified ads at the back of the newspaper advertising their availability, they form a plan to allow a man to choose between the three of them, provided he allows the sisters to live in his house together. What happens? Well, you’ll have to go to find out!
The final scene was held back in the main room and set during World War II where one barmaid spurs another to meet a man who’s put up an ad on a notice board. She encourages her colleague to bring some happiness to a soldier’s life and begrudgingly her friend goes along.
Throughout all the scenes was the continuous theme of finding love through ads – whether in the modern day online; in the 40s through posters pinned on a wall; or in the 1800s through The Times newspaper. The actors performed superbly and were immersed in their personifications and the singers had beautiful voices that gave me frissons. However, I’m not sure the walking around style was for me. I felt it left the scenes feeling disjointed, losing the continuity and flow of the performance.