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Folk review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘a play of empathy’

Patrick Bridgman, Connie Walker and Chloe Harris in Folk at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo: Graeme Braidwood

Tom Wells writes plays of great heart. His latest, Folk, is no different. It’s as warm as an electric blanket on a nippy night. Sister Winnie, a tiny fiery nun who likes a smoke and a singsong, befriends troubled teenager Kayleigh after the kid lobs a brick through her window. They bond, somewhat improbably, over a shared fondness for folk music, which leads Winne to start enthusiastically planning a folk night at her church. Winnie’s shy, taciturn friend Stephen, however, remains wary of the girl – and even more alarmed at the prospect of performing in public – but eventually, inevitably, he grows fond of her too.

It’s a slip of a story, but it’s told with charm and humour. Connie Walker’s Winnie, with her encyclopaedic knowledge of the saints and her penchant for Guinness, is full of fizz and fight – she illuminates the stage – and there’s nicely-judged support from Chloe Harris and Patrick Bridgman. While Tessa Walker’s production is one of very few surprises, sometimes that’s comforting, sometimes that’s welcome.

Winnie, Stephen and Kayleigh are all, in their different ways, invisible people – a middle-aged nun, a quiet man ruled by his inhibitions who’s never quite got the hang of life, and a gobby young girl with no place to go.

While it is a tad predictable Folk, like so much of Wells’ work, is a play of empathy, generosity and hope. Poignant but not sentimental, in its own delicate, minor key way, it’s a celebration of the different forms that love can take.

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