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  • Grace Sansom

FOUR STARS Wish You Weren’t Here: A tale true to us all, and gorgeously told

Olivia Pentelow (Mila) and Eleanor Henderson (Lorna) in Wish You Weren’t Here. Photo by Chris Saunders.

You know you’re in safe hands when you see Rob Watt’s directing in The Playhouse, but Wish You Weren’t Here is by far his biggest triumph yet. Katie Redford’s play is a warm, rich, and raw exploration into the mother and daughter bond and the struggles it goes through in the claws of teenage girlhood. His direction finds its home in a tender play, complete with stellar comedy, heart, strength and message. All components marry perfectly and we’re left with a gorgeously relatable production, whether you’ve brought your Nan’s ashes to Scarborough in a zip lock bag or not…

Redford’s play isn’t just relatable through context or circumstance but in feeling. Wish You Weren’t Here tells the story of Mum, Lorna (Eleanor Henderson), and her teenage daughter, Mila (Olivia Pentelow). Lorna has organised a ‘premium’ trip to Scarborough to celebrate Mila’s GCSE results, even though she isn’t telling her mum what they were. A small but mighty adventure of struggle, emotional development, realisation and love ensues.

Eleanor Henderson (Lorna) in Wish You Weren’t Here. Photo by Chris Saunders.

Henderson’s portrayal of Lorna is powerful: her endearing vulnerability and ambition to try is so powerful in her characterization. She plays a single mother, weathered and underestimated in her abandonment. But there is two things she won’t let life’s cruelty tarnish, Mila’s confidence and her own sense of humour. She’s a product of a harsher upbringing than she’s exposed her daughter to – she might make mistakes, but there is nothing but an energetic and palpable love to her actions. This love runs through the veins of the script and bleeds openly into her performance. It’s a skill to portray true earnestness and sheer likability when trying to get your teenage daughter drunk on pitchers in the local ‘Spoons. Lorna wants Mila to feel a brilliance and a sense of involvement that she was never given privy to. We’re on the journey with her as she learns, through Mila’s forgiveness, that it’s never too late for self-discovery.

Olivia Pentelow (Mila) in Wish You Weren’t Here. Photo by Chris Saunders.

Pentelow’s Mila is nothing short of a breakthrough performance. Both actresses are blessed with beautifully impeccable comedic timing, but Pentelow’s is outstanding in the context of it being her first role on stage! She plays the stubborn and pretentious, but incredibly mature in ways, teenager with a complexity of heart. It’s an everyman character in the sense that we’ve all been there. We all have been 15, whether our jeans were supposed to be baggy or skinny, or our worlds revolved around TikTok or Vine, and felt we had it all figured out. We were learning the ways of the world with blinkers on, but didn’t realise that yet. We were scared to be hurt and scared to be open. Especially with our mum.

When Mila’s icy outlook starts to melt, love floods Pentelow’s facial expression and demeanor and it’s incredibly moving (yes, I did shed many a tear). The pair complement each other perfectly as the text covers issues of race, discrimination, lived experience, body positivity, parenthood, and sexual discovery. Unlike Watt’s previous production of Birds & Bees, these themes don’t cloud any feeling or connection in the production. This piece is one of emotion and connection at its core.

The use of audio and video work in a striking way to develop the story’s background and the plot. It’s a stunning production with a loving centre. Wish You Weren’t Here reflects the ill-placed resentment we feel for those we’re closest to, and those we see most reflected in ourselves. As we grow, they’re the relationships we nurture most and hold closest to our hearts. That’s the future I see for Lorna and Mila. 

Olivia Pentelow (Mila) and Eleanor Henderson (Lorna) in Wish You Weren’t Here. Photo by Chris Saunders.


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