Writing and working at Live for the past week has made me aware of how intense the output of theatre can be there – even if half of it is script in hand – it is certainly fulfilling its remit of bringing on new writing. Had an extremely good night last night watching four pieces of new theatre in Live’s bijou Studio. The place had a throwback mini-me feel, mimicking the main house with cabaret tables and subsequent drinks. It was nicely full too, which is the clear bonus of putting on 4 pieces of writing – the writers bring their mates. In less generous places this might threaten to backfire into partisan stony faced scrutiny of the 3 you have no connection with, but happily none of that immature shenanigans was afoot last night. The audience, including myself, relished every course.
To extend the dining metaphor, the starter was an excerpt from Alison Carr’s That One Night, and it went down a treat; great quickfire dialogue of husband and wife whose something to hide has just turned up in their wardrobe, shades of the Seaton Carew canoeist man with clothes laid out in the bed. Intriguing!
Next up was Watershed, an acid sharp look at gender politics in a would-be hip house-share gone stale. This by Rosalind Wyllie. Now sadly (for my money) most people do not equate feminism (or even her rebellious daughter ‘post’) with a barrel of laughs. Well Wyllie proves them wrong. The wit of one of the wise-cracking broads in this play hearked me back to the sassy tongue-lashings of the likes of Bette Davis, Kate Hepburn and others in those fast-talking films of the 30’s and 40’s. Maybe that’ll be another upside of our very own (whisper) Depression; sharp, funny women in films and plays, decent foils for the men. Or maybe it’ll just be more “He’s really not that into you”. This latter reference could describe the neurosis of Mel, erstwhile best friend of Abby (the Bette Davis part played with bombshell accuracy by Vicky Elliot). Mel, all stylish vulnerability as played by Laura Norton, has swallowed Dylan, her boyfriend’s, swinging male-fantasy lifestyle, hook, line and sinker and, despite her willingness to cavort in gorgeous underwear while he films her gobbling his friend; Dylan is about to detach her from his rod (as it were) and throw her back where she came from. Especially when she gets upset and starts expecting him to behave like a decent human being. To be credibly alluring, this rotter needs to be played by a sufficiently attractive actor and Micky Cochrane is that man; because, and this is one of Wyllie’s wise moves, a woman’s preparedness to suffer fools gladly is most often fuelled by surface attraction. In other words, both men and women are prone to the eye-candy-trap. But pretty always is as pretty actually does and no-one looks good by the end, their biggest flaw the fatal attraction. The other US on-screen drama it brought to mind was Friends; a British dystopian version, laced with bitter hilarity.
Rob Atkinson was the fourth actor in the aformentioned play, endearingly portraying a sourly timid geek with a facebook fixation as the most perceptive of the gang.
In the other full length play, which closed the evening, Paddy Campbell’s Dial a Mate, Rob played sad, squalid Norman who is suddenly befriended in his own home by breezily chummy Jackie. It would plot-spoil to describe too much of what happens next, but suffice to say that Paddy Campbell’s writing shifts from mocking uproariousness to sharply satirical with enjoyably consummate ease. The on the money, political edge makes this is a comedy for right now. In the hands of three fine actors (Rob, Vicky and Micky) decent writing would always shine but the way this was crafted showed exceptional promise. Paddy Campbell, a name to watch out for – he has a way with words!
The other excerpt of the evening was For Better or Worse by Laura Degnan, continuing the theme of relationships, real or pretended. This time it was family, gathered for a 16th birthday girl into coma year two. Degnan managed to draw grim comedy from this tense situation, especially in the lines of the well observed, tight-lipped matriarch who needs to be in control of her increasingly uneasy family.
I came away feeling buoyed up by the way in which new writing talent is still coming through at Live, aided staunchly by the company’s Gez Casey and Degna Stone. The standard was admirably high and I wish all contributors well. In less straitened times it might have been easier to imagine developing full productions from such strongly promising material – I hope there is some creative way that might yet be possible.
I look forward to our next half week of rehearsals on The Taxi Driver’s Daughter and what delights it’ll bring, the characters taking a few more steps from page towards the stage.