There are shades of the Hitchcock films Vertigo and Marnie in Oliver Emanuel’s Magpie Park, the second play to be premiered in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Northern Exposure new writing season. Here is a mystery with an elusive, unseen central character and teasingly unanswered questions.
Store detective Douglas, played by Liam McKenna, nabs kleptomaniac Laura in the Leeds branch of Harvey Nic’s and falls for her. Their affair is carried on in a room in the city’s landmark Queen’s Hotel. Laura eventually commits suicide there and Douglas gradually takes up with her younger sister Poppy, played by Alison Pargeter.
McKenna is neat, tidy and respectable - much too neat to be swearing as often as he does. He handles lots of past tense dialogue very well but the attraction for the unseen Laura is difficult for a theatre audience to comprehend. Alison Pargeter’s Poppy shows a youngster’s bafflement and curiosity and moments of haunting insight.
The simple hotel room set is crying out for adventurous lighting to emphasise moods and atmosphere. A smooth jazz soundtrack is helpful but is not heard often enough.
Douglas calls Laura his magpie. Magpies make an interesting metaphor and plot device, especially in crucial recollections of the sisters’ childhood. The metaphor lets the play soar into the realm of magical realism, albeit fitfully. Magpie Park makes an interesting stage play but there is a film, maybe a tv film, in this story struggling to make itself seen.