Having lived in a small town, I can say with certainty that the old adage that everyone knows everyone else is certainly true. And just like Almost, Maine the fictional town that gives its name to John Cariani’s play, my small town was occasionally bathed in the light of Aurora Borealis, and the magic that often comes with a sighting of the Northern Lights is recreated here, in an affectionate production from the Italia Conti Ensemble, ahead of a run at Edinburgh Fringe.
Almost isn’t quite a town, we’re told, the inhabitants couldn’t organise themselves to achieve the status, and so the settlement appears on no maps. That could explain the kind of fairytale goings on in a place where broken hearts are carried around in brown paper bags, and the love you’ve given another can be stored in the garage.
The play is made up of nine distinct scenes or vignettes, although characters from elsewhere in the play are mentioned, there is no intertwining narrative. But all of the scenes do take place on the same night within the community of Almost, Maine and they all have a common theme of love and romance.
For some we see regret and stories of love that has been lost, in others the first flourishes of romance are just beginning to blossom. Each of our characters have their own story to tell, and each of the scenes stand up on their own as individual pieces of work.
Director, Jack Gogarty has linked each scene with some beautiful musical interludes, performed by the cast. At first glance it’s simply an opportunity to move some set around, or to get the actors to the right place on stage, but look very closely and you’ll see small snippets of previous stories continuing, as other people’s lives tend to do, whether we choose to look or not.
The ensemble cast work incredibly well together, a benefit of them having studied together for two years, and it’s very much a team effort throughout. Amongst the talented group there are some stand out performances, from Henry Brackenridge’s heart melting little looks of affection, as the love of his life walks away in order to get closer to him, to Matt Olsen’s emotional performance as the man who bumps in to his ex on the eve of her wedding.
Ruby Valentino was very convincing as Deena, who is shocked to discover her best friend has fallen for her, while Bruce Allinson was a joy to watch as the young man who could not feel pain. Jade Gordon, playing both Glory and Rhonda was exceptional in both scenes, with some wonderful moments of comedy woven in.
Almost, Maine is an extremely charming collection of tales performed to an incredibly high standard, it is sweet and syrupy, but tugs on your heart-strings. The enhanced level of staging adds to the magical feel of a group of people touched by love in a place that isn’t quite a town, but almost.
Almost, Maine can be seen at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival at theSpace @ Niddry Street 12th – 17th August.