In 1996 Lisa White interviewed her grandmother, Millie Shrieves, who grew up in colonial India. A charming, energetic one-woman show, Lavender Junction is based on those conversations. It is rich with details about the British Raj: sluggish trains, her Ayah’s “perfectly broken English” and being “walloped” by boarding school nuns. Endearing as it is, however, the play suffers from formlessness and the heterogeneity of its material.
Her voice may be the show’s greatest asset. It is impressively wide-ranging, encompassing everything from uncertainty to assurance.
The studio space is compact, the set minimal. One-person shows promise intimacy, but Lavender Junction is unusually personal even within the category. Its only form of address is “dear,” tucked quietly between clauses. Slowly, we realise that Lisa White, playing her grandmother, is talking to herself.
Her voice may be the show’s greatest asset. It is impressively wide-ranging, encompassing everything from uncertainty to assurance, at times hushed and querying, at others forceful and stiff with indignation. A gifted mimic, Lisa White impersonates the Ayah in one of the production’s comic highlights, and imitates Tallulah Bankhead’s drawling American accent with equal flair.
It’s a shame, then, that the show’s breakneck pace prevents us from fully enjoying these moments. Perhaps because of time constraints, each pause or hesitation is curtailed, each trailed-off clause giving swift way to something quite different. The effect is to make Lavender Junction seem like a series of loosely linked anecdotes, as imperfect and inchoate as real life.
Its key weakness may be fidelity to its material. “Mack used to say, ‘look at the moon and stars,’” Millie recalls. “‘You can almost reach out your hand and pluck them from the sky.’” From a much-loved husband the line might be romantic, but to a theatrical audience they are uncomfortably close to cliché. We are left with a story which is indeed personal - but too personal for its poignancy to quite translate to the stage.