If there was an overarching theme in Play Time, bringing together eight short plays in a single ‘scratch night’, I couldn’t detect one. There were, although probably inadvertent, some discernible links between the plays, where they covered similar ground. The evening managed to remain interesting, despite the disparateness of the separate plays, this being very much an example of variety being the spice of life.
Frenemies by Jonathan Skinner involved some dark humour. Quickly establishing an ‘us’ and ‘them’, two couples, Roger (David Gurney) and Janet (Charlotte Warner) invite Andy (Turan Duncan) and Scarlett (Hollie Hayles) over for dinner. While relations between the quartet are cordial at face value, the discussion the couples have, separately, in the comfort of their own homes, reveals they don’t enjoy each other’s company as much as they claim publicly. But then, “Lying’s easier”, even when it comes to Roger’s cooking, which, largely thanks to its avant-garde nature, is to be endured rather than enjoyed. This is a very British play, in its many idiosyncrasies, and one where what is left unsaid speaks as much as what is said.
Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Ants by Tom Powell told me nothing about ants. The ‘fun trivia’ from host Kate Dolan in her preamble to this play was more revealing. Two friends, played by Nat Johnson and Joyce Hope, have bought a house together. Rather than tiptoeing around difficult issues relating to their moving in (to the house) and moving on (with their careers), theirs a bluntness both refreshing and brutal. “You’re not very supportable,” one says to the other. “You’re not very likeable.” On one level, this play makes the same point as the previous one, namely that truth is always better than fabrication. On another, it’s a coming-of- age story: they’ve realised, having reminisced on childhood memories and dreams, that life doesn’t always turn out as they had hoped it would as youngsters.
Sharing Life by Sarah Power took a different angle on awkwardness in social situations. While a lot of plays portray uneasiness in novel circumstances, such as a first date, this one sees a couple played by Olivia Foan and Abe Buckoke, already in a long-term relationship, misread one another. There are many elements in this play that are relatable, whether it’s the mundane things like ensuring the recycling is sorted properly for collection day, or (a particular bugbear of mine) trying to get the bill for a restaurant meal in an understaffed establishment, or more serious matters, such as whether it is financially viable to start a family at a given point. A lot of ‘what if’s in this play, which asks far more questions than it answers.
Amser’s Adventure by Jack Bradfield seemed to pack a tad too much into a short play, such that it was, to be frank, baffling. A computer game engineer, played by Imogen Allen, describes at least two different games, in terms of the level of complexity involved as the games progress. Not even the sky is the limit when it comes to imagination and creativity, and it seemed to me that these games are a form of escapism for some as much as theatre is a form of escapism for others. Not knowing much about gaming, some of the references to other games and game-makers were somewhat lost on me. While there was enough description to understand the games themselves, I had difficulty detecting any kind of message or deeper meaning behind creating entertainment for gamers.
Blue Eyes by Katie Sherrard and Phoebe Sparrow was an extreme example of the bizarre job interview. This wasn’t one where questions of an overly personal nature were asked (as far as I recall). Lucy Stanford (Katie Sherrard) is up for a role in a motion picture. A highly pretentious screen test, with a casting agent played by Tripti Triperaneni, provided good entertainment for the audience and became increasingly absurd as it went on. In an industry where supply significant exceeds demand, the play seems to ask how far performers should be prepared to go for their craft. The audience here never discovered for certain whether Lucy did proceed to play a part she quite vehemently expressed displeasure at being put forward for, and there seemed more scope with this play than any other to develop the plot into a full-length production.
The Underwhelming Adventures of Prozac Man and Low Self Esteem Boy by Samson Hawkins certainly lived up to its name. Taking a leaf out of The Book of Mormon musical, Prozac Man (Alex Stevens) and Self Esteem Boy (Samson Hawkins) sing lyrics that do not necessarily tie up well (that is, at all) with the music. Full of fun and frolics, this is the sort of thing that would do very well at something like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The comic timings need tweaking here and there, but it’s one of those shows where attempts to think too carefully about what is actually going on are futile. Just go with the flow, the rapport with the audience is there. It’s silly and it knows it, and had the best line of the evening, exposing a hole in the staging of quite a few shows. “I’ve got to leave the room for absolutely no reason and I’ll come back when the phone conversation ends.”
Cake and Cancer by Tiffany Bowman considers the psychology of lying. The plot itself as a whole wasn’t as convincing as it could have been. Francesca Isherwood and Zoe Biles play good friends. Isherwood’s character, Maisie, was diagnosed with cancer, but this later turned out to be a misdiagnosis. But as so many people were being so nice, offering gifts, condolences and money, the pretence was kept up. Her friend is understandably angry at having found out the truth from a third party source, but appears only to express frustration by use of the F-word. (I counted four in a single breath. What for?) It was, at least, an intriguing observation into how looking out for number one in the short-term can have disastrous consequences in the long run.
Stockfordian by Kevin Cuffe sees a transient family moving to increasingly unsanitary conditions before ending up absurdly living in a public toilet. Eric (Nicholas Halliwell) and what I assumed to be younger siblings, played by Christina Baston and James Russell-Morley, encounter Jason Manford (the comedian and broadcaster, who does not actually make an appearance in any shape or form). He comes in, uses the conveniences, and leaves, without a word. Even more bizarrely, Eric rages at Manford for not speaking to him in a ‘do you know who I am?’ rant. But why would Manford, or any other television personality, know who Eric is? Knowing he has failed at life, Eric later stands at the top of a tall building, ready to plunge. The show ends, as it were, on a cliffhanger: does he jump or doesn’t he? A mixture of eccentricity and peculiarity combine in a play whose lead character only wants to live, and die, by extremes.
Overall, this was a fascinating evening, providing much food for thought, and much animated discussion afterwards: it was more than 90 minutes after curtain call that I finally left the venue, having exchanged myriad opinions with performers, directors and audience members. That’s how nights like this ought to be, providing so much to talk about whether in the venue or between friends on the train home. Or, in a few cases, both.
Review by Chris Omaweng
8 short plays by some of the UK’s most promising playwrights & companies brought to one of London’s most exciting venues. This production of playtime is presented by comedienne Kate Dolan who will bring her mix of self-deprecating humor and straight up insults to keep the momentum going.
Samson Hawkins, Jack Bradfield, Kevin Cuffe, Tom Powell, Tiffany
Bowman, Katie Sherrad, Jonathon Skinner & Sarah Power.
Producer Second Sons Theatre Company
11th June 2017
2 Hours (Including Interval)
The Bunker, 53a Southwark Street, SE1 1RU