Written by: David Rudkin
Denis Lawson (Colin)
Sheila Gish (Anne)
Richard Kane (Doctor/Seminologist/Gynaecological Surgeon, Ambulance Driver and Area Adoptions Officer)
Sally Watts (Jennifer, Receptionist, Valerie, Nurse and Mrs Jones)
Director: Rob Walker
Designer: Peter Avery
Lighting Designer: Brian Harris
Senior Stage Manager: Margaret Nottage
Stage Managers: Ian Gamble, Jackie Goldney
Bush Production Dates: 12 November 1986 – 3 January 1987
Image Caption: Actresses Sheila Gish and Sally Watts. Production photograph by Nobby Clark.
Ashes premiered in English at the Open Space Theatre, London, 9 January 1974, directed by Pam Brighton. Charles Marowitz originally commissioned the play for Open Space Theatre in 1972 but the production had to be postponed for a couple of years. Translated into German, Ashes had its world premiere at the Stadtteatr Malersaal, Hamburg in 1973. Ian McKellen played the role of Colin in Ron Daniel’s production at The Young Vic in 1975. Rob Walker’s 1986 revival production at The Bush was meticulous in its attention to personal and medical detail and the audience were not spared the minutiae involved when a couple face the continual struggle of trying to conceive.
Colin (Denis Lawson) and Anne (Sheila Gish) are both teachers approaching middle age and desperate for a child. A note in the original play text describes the couple as being ‘an averagely presentable couple, neither sexually glamorous nor pathetically unprepossing.’ Anne had carried twins, one of whom died subsequently forcing out the other baby. Further tragedy follows as Anne undergoes a hysterectomy which puts pay to her being able to have a child of her own. Although main theme throughout Ashes is childlessness or as critic Michael Billington observed: ‘the first half emerges at most as a Kafkaesque satire on medical bureaucracy.’ (The Guardian, 22 November 1986), in the second half Rudkin tackles the complex theme of global political violence. Colin is from Co. Antrim and he delivers a particularly stirring monologue on the Belfast bomb atrocity, its victims and the family funeral that forces him to return home. ‘Denis Lawson’s study in duality – homosexuality and heterosexual, Irish in England, a Protestant in Ireland – has the right ironic detachment while never concealing the bitterness beneath.’ (Martin Hoyle, The Financial Times, 21 November 1986) Rudkin’s text creates an interesting binary, the creation of life and the destruction of life amidst the troubles in Colin’s homeland.
The set was simple and dark, with a curved ribbon of light projected onto the floor and walls. A note on staging from the published text read: ‘if the actors have to project this text, in order to bring the audience in to something which is essentially intimate, they have to do so with especial subtlety: and this, in performance, can take time. In any case, for the sake of the play’s three-movement form, should be given without interval.’