BBC Scotland, 21 December 2011
Sylvia (Monica Gibb), a recently-retired wife and mother, whose husband
spends most of his time on the golf-course, is on a mission to discover a long-long-lost school friend Grace. Although she
has not seen Grace for forty years, she believes that, by revisiing her past, she might be able to make sense of her future.
This is an important task, as Sylvia does not quite know what to make of herself, now that she has no full-time work to sustain
She knocks on the door of Grace's house; it is answered by a man claiming to be Grace's
husband George (Finlay Welsh). He invites Sylvia in for a cup of Earl Grey tea, and informs her that Grace apparently
passed away four years earlier in an accident. The two of them continue talking; and as they do so, the atmosphere changes.
Whereas once they were frostily polite to one another, their conversational tone becomes friendlier; as a result, Sylvia discovers
that George has lied about Grace's fate. Sylvia discovers to her horror that George and Grace are one and the same person;
ever since her mid-twenties, Grace has been a man, and now enjoys a long-term relationship with a girlfriend.
Tea and Symmetry operates on several levels. Author Smith proves the truth
of the old adage that the past "is a foreign country" that cannot be revisited. Sylvia hopes to recover something of her lost
innocence by visiting Grace, but finds to her cost that the "old" Grace no longer exists. However the past
still has considerable significance for George; the relationship with Sylvia provided the one bright spot in his
otherwise miserable adolescence. When Sylvia kissed Grace as a teenager, Grace felt - albeit briefly - that perhaps she
could live her future life as a woman. However that feeling soon evaporated; and hence Grace became George.
At another level, Tea and Symmetry suggests that individuals should learn
to tolerate one another. While Sylvia feels cheated that her one-time lover should have changed her sex, she nonetheless makes an
effort to understand George's point of view. Hence she accepts his offer to stay and have another gin-and-tonic, in
the belief that talking will help her forge a closer relationship with an obviously lonely man.
In structural terms, this two-hander began slowly, with the intensity gradually
increasing as the protagonists discussed their past lives. The atmosphere remained outwardly polite, as Sylvia and George
sat in George's front room, sipping their tea and moving later on to something stronger; but the two of them endured
profound emotional experiences. The two actors - Monica Gibb and Finlay Welsh - should be congratulated for their vocal
Tautly directed by Kirsteen Cameron, Tea and Symmetry grabbed
our attention and refused to let go throughout the play's thirty minute running-time. I shall not forget it in a hurry.