First up, Stephen May’s The Valuation picks over the recent aftermath of a divorce and represents the chaotic freedom of a bittersweet new beginning. The bouncy, impeccably structured script is well served by Sophia Rashid’s direction. Comic timing is expertly delivered; the results are slick and truly humorous. A particularly sparkling performance from Olwen May in the central role of Heather is worthy of note as she re-discovers a forgotten naughty girlishness.
Paul Coates’ The Bones of You intrigues from the outset. One scene that plays out in total silence is particularly powerful and sets a wonderful tone of loneliness and longing. The potential for the staging to represent two separate locations simultaneously excites me and seems particularly appropriate when the exchange of correspondence between two isolated characters is integral to the plot. This potential is not fully realised. When the two characters do finally interact I am initially confused and then compensated with rather too much explanation.
The Confession is a charming and cohesive conclusion to the first half written by Dave Simpson & Diane Whitley. A confessional monologue delivered to an absent listener is inter-cut with action scenes as Patrick relays the misdemeanours which have lead to his undoing. Simple, highly effective and underpinned with a Beatle’s soundtrack, we learn the tragic tale of Patrick who generously sows his seed, fathering seventy six children, but finds himself rejected and lonely when the truth is discovered, devastating his wife and their family. I particularly enjoy actress Caron May’s versatility in a variety of roles.
After the interval the audience are invigorated by Anna Clarkson’s highly charged, stylish and delightfully meta-theatrical Down by the River. Realism and myth are blurred together when a woman is ambushed by a three headed dog and flees to the forest for safety. She is ‘rescued’ by an apparently altruistic Glaswegian whose real identity becomes increasingly questionable when paired with a suspiciously part canine, part human counterpart.
Clarkson acknowledges her audience’s intellect, at no point is this multi-layered work overly-signposted or spoon-fed; the results are eerie. The work is both allegorical and emotionally logical and director Kath Mattock facilitates this complexity with ease. Those who are familiar with myth and folklore will acknowledge certain references; those who are not will enjoy an unsettling and bizarre theatricality resonant with a faint familiarity. Alex Baldacci’s seductively knowing performance adds significantly to the mood of this piece, Lorraine Cheshire is both comic and devastatingly dark as Cerberus and Ursula Holden Gill’s The Woman is a fragile and human contrast.
Infidelity recurs as a theme during Mark Illis’ A Good Moment when a hiking themed love triangle ends tragically. When Rob has a nasty fall during an ambitious treck the threesome find themselves off the beaten track and out of range to call for help. Fearful Rob, faced with his own mortality, finds himself confessing an affair to his partner Anna, who in turn confesses her affair with Zac, the third of the three. Rather than break the relationship, the emergency confession brings them closer together. But they are reliant on jilted Zac to run for help, leaving them stranded and exposed until they are rescued. Further development of the characters’ relationships and interactions will benefit this piece which feels thin in places but I enjoy the ambiguous ending and the uncertainty regarding the motivation behind non-return of Zac when help is not forthcoming.
The evening concludes with Sh*t and Sugar written by P. McCarthy. Thriving in her retirement but frustrated by others perceptions and ignorance of the older generation, the only thing that stands in the way of Marnie’s trip to Portugal is a basket full of damp knickers and a dysfunctional tumble dryer. When repair man Lee attempts to clock off before the machine is fixed, Marnie goes against stereotype in an impressive display of over sixties feistiness, holding him hostage with his own screwdriver until the job is finished. During this brief period of captivity the two characters become better acquainted and we learn more about their daily struggles, the ‘sh*t’ in the play’s title. Enid Dunn is extremely endearing as Marnie; energetic and likeable despite her apparently hostile actions and Paul Liam Fox’s performance quality is well balanced and very believable. This is a straightforward, feel-good comedy with a well deserved ‘sugary’ pay off for two very likeable characters.