Few actors could make the line “We watched a documentary about mass-produced corn” sound instantly quotable, but Maxine Peake is one of them. She has the gift of being utterly compelling even when talking about the most ordinary subjects.
In Julia Leigh’s Avalanche: A Love Story, directed by Anne-Louise Sarks as part of Fertility Fest, Peake performs solo as an unnamed woman. In her 30s she rekindles a previous relationship with a man called Paul and quickly falls very much in love. They move in together, marry and, after several years, decide to try for a baby – the only glitches being that Paul previously had a vasectomy and Peake’s character is almost 40.
Basically, it’s a very ordinary story. But therein lies its beauty. As a drama it is both completely believable and – probably for many people – easy to relate to. And not necessarily through the fertility narrative. This a story that’s as much about balancing marriage with womanhood and creativity.
Leigh’s play is peppered with understated but lovely turns of phrase, such as when the woman describes how “our love-fucking had become so coloured by the desire to have a child”. In turn, Peake somehow imbues these simple sentences with the emotion of a Sophocles play.
Yet the most beautiful thing of all is that this tale isn’t a tragedy. Instead, it closes by revealing itself as a ‘love story’ in the sense of discovering a mainline connection to a far deeper, shared sense of love. Glorious.