The premise for Bebe Sanders’ Violet – a recently dumped millennial gains a new appreciation for life through a friendship with a fiery 80-year-old – sounds almost ridiculously twee.
And it comes perilously close to it at times. Twenty-seven-year-old Bertie flees London to get her head together in small seaside town where she meets Violet, a woman nearing the end of a long rich life. A bond forms between the two, fuelled by wine, weekly fish suppers and their regular Lindy Hop classes. See what I mean.
The potential for this all to have ended up feeling horribly saccharine and, worse, incredibly patronising is sky high – but Violet ends up being a genuinely affecting and delicate piece of writing that succeeds, in large part, because Sanders is such a strong performer of her own material. She’s a warm, charming presence and she hits every emotional beat in the script. The writing also contains some beautifully crafted lines; its biggest strength, however, is its understatement, the way it continually resists the urge to amp up the tragic aspect of the story, honing in instead on details.
Ellie Gauge’s production, the stage strewn with boxes and sand, is suggestive of a full life in the process of being packed up, is also very effective. Crucially the piece has a level of emotional texture that’s often lacking in solo shows.
The secondary characters, Bertie’s ex and her mum, are flimsy and Bertie herself feels a bit insubstantial as a character, but like Clara Brennan’s Spine, which it in some senses resembles, its heart is huge. In Violet, Sanders captures a real sense of memory and history, pain and passion. Violet feels alive.