The Roundabout Season
Here's a lively new initiative: three short, sharp plays; four clever actors; and a travelling 138-seater "roundabout" wooden theatre in a fine collaboration between Paines Plough, Sheffield Theatres and the re-born Shoreditch Town Hall.
The plays - Nick Payne's One Day When We Were Young, Duncan Macmillan's Lungs and Penelope Skinner's The Sound of Heavy Rain - were seen in Sheffield last autumn and are playing separately in repertoire and as a trilogy on the weekends.
In One Day, a young couple, both virgins, are seen going to bed in a Bath hotel in 1942, a watershed moment as Leonard (Andrew Sheridan) is going off to fight. They fumble through an air raid. They eat Bourneville chocolate. They exchange presents and promises.
Twenty years later, Violet (Maia Alexander, making a wonderful debut, straight from RADA), now married to someone else, meets Len once again in a local park. Their final encounter, another 40 years on, is in Len's one-bedroom house in Luton where, deaf and crumbling, he learns of a tie that binds him to Vi forever.
This deft and moving triptych is beautifully played and sets up the immediately contrasting, pacier ebb and flow of Lungs, in which Kate O'Flynn gives a virtuoso comic performance of a woman (unnamed) torturing herself with anxiety over childbirth; is she a good enough to have a baby, or should she save the planet instead?
There's nothing but hilarity in this conundrum, and Alistair Cope plays a dead bat stooge to her wittering until Richard Wilson's production suddenly accelerates into sex, pregnancy, disaster, infidelity, separation; and then - reconciliation, more pregnancy, and a leap forward to growing up and death.
The play loses its grip as it hurtles into fragmentation, but it's a zippy piece of writing, quite unusual, and ideally suited to the cockpit atmosphere of the compact wooden-O. And it's followed, in James Grieve's smoky production of The Sound of the Heavy Rain, by something completely different: a Chandleresque mystery thriller. A private dick in Soho tries to find a missing show girl, Foxy O'Hara, and becomes embroiled in a series of twists and turns with Foxy's mousey room-mate, a temporary secretary of ten years' standing, and a cross-dressing accountant who is acting suspiciously.
In writing a peculiar hybrid of David Hare's Knuckle and Phyllis Nagy's Disappeared, we must give Skinner marks for bravery, and keeping us guessing, but things unravel too easily and the cabaret side of things is not the best part of the show.
Still, you do come away feeling you've brushed advantageously with three of our brightest younger dramatists, and a national tour in the exciting new portable theatre should brighten many hundreds of lives, young and old, over the coming months.