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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Word: Play NW/SW showcases the talents of six emerging authors from different regions whose short plays are inspired by just one word: ‘Division.’

Impressively the scripts fulfill the brief; there is no sense of the writers cheating and offering an old play they’ve had lying around. Such a collection is potentially disjointed but co-directors Adam Quayle and Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder present a stylish cohesive production. The end of one play merges seamlessly into the start of the next ensuring a smooth pace albeit at the cost of denying the audience the chance to show appreciation.

By co-incidence some of the writers adopt similar themes- coping with familial division and with loss or grief re-occur. The co-directors organise the running order to avoid a sense of familiarity and to send the audience home happy by ending both acts with a comedy. The Bears by Luke Barnes is funnier in conception than execution. Updating the legend of The Three Bears with a streetwise Goldilocks, an ineffective emasculated daddy bear and a smug over-entitled baby bear is funny in itself but runs out of steam before the end.

In contrast, Tom Wainwright‘s This is Only a Test is a gloriously silly idea with pair of great comic performances. As his driving test and the birth of his child approaches a desperate and bewildered Rob (Matthew Ganley) seeks assistance from Rachael Austin’s hippie therapist who is part Jedi/ part wrestler.

Bea Roberts' Nights with Dolly Henderson tries a bit too hard to fit the brief offering regional, sexual and social examples of divisions. Hotel manager Dolly and waitress Donna explore their roles in 1960’s changing society. It is an ambitious largely successful play although a change in emphasis mid-point is jarring.

Ella Greenhill and Natalie McGrath use different techniques to explore similar themes. McGrath’s Exodus is a densely-worded monologue examining the issues that divide and unify families and friends. Greenhill’s Plastic Figurines has a claustrophobic tense atmosphere; you can feel the options open to Rose gradually shrinking as she recovers from the loss of a parent and tries to live a normal life while coping with her brother’s severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  

Both plays are fine in themselves but are overshadowed by Becky Prestwich’s similarly themed The Globe in the Attic. Lou (Helen Carter) and Michael (David Judge) are divided on the best way of coping with the impending death of their mother. The already strong story is enhanced by a pair of contrasting but equally valid performances. Carter is tremendously moving with a direct compassionate presentation of someone close to despair while Judge is more remote ; taking refuge ( and possibly hiding behind) globetrotting humanitarian work. The actors achieve the blend of irritation, resentment and affection that is present in all families.

Word: Play NW/SW achieves its ambitions with a series of plays of which all are successful and some are exceptional.

- Dave Cunningham


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