Having two separate one-act plays on the same night is a bit of a gamble really. You never know what the audience are going to do. Are the two plays complementary or do they clash against each other thematically? What about the set, the actors needed? Yes, it’s a brave Artistic Director that goes for a two-show performance. Luckily, Matthew Parker at The Hope Theatre laughs in the face of danger and has brought a great double bill – Moments and Empty Beds – by Julia Cranney to Islington.
Moments is a two-hander about Ava (Julia Cranney) and Daniel (Simon Mattacks), two single people living in London who occasionally see each other on the bus to work. Ava is a young lady working in a call centre, while Daniel is a middle-aged security guard at a car park. One thing they do have in common is that they are both on their own. Daniel is estranged from his family and Ava has moved away from her home to the bright lights of London town. The other thing they have in common is that each is really dissatisfied with their life. Two very different people whose lives become intermingled thanks to a bus, an egg and a birthday.
I have to admit, at first, I wasn’t too sure where Moments was heading. The play opened with each of the actors narrating the life of the other for the audience. As a device, this worked pretty well but there were occasions where the action of the actor didn’t quite match up with the description given by the other. A minor thing but to me, quite noticeable. However, Moments really got into its stride when the two characters met. Their interaction, both in the story and between the actors was first rate and really gripping. My mind was racing as I watched them and I tried to second guess the ending. But thanks to the quality of the writing, I didn’t even come close to getting it right.
Empty Beds was a real contrast. All of the action took place at a single table in a railway carriage where three sisters – Katherine (Julia Cranney), Emily (Carys Wright) and Jo (Debbie Brannan) – are on their way to visit their brother on his birthday. There is a lot of tension between the three sisters and this really comes out as the train comes to a halt and remains stationary and the claustrophobic atmosphere starts to build among them.
Of the two plays, I enjoyed this one the least. This is possibly because I didn’t really like any of the sisters as characters. They were the sort of people who, had I been on that train, I would have ended up tutting – in that very British way – and may even have been so annoyed that I would have audibly sighed. Having said that, the actors were very believable in the roles. I know a group of sisters up north who were very similar in the bickering and quite viscous fighting that the girls engage in. Once again, the writing led the way here and it was interesting how, talking about it afterwards, different people came up with different ideas as to what the ending to the play meant.
Two very different plays about people and their lives, penned by a playwright with a real talent for analysing why individuals react the way they do. Julia, really is an excellent writer, as well as being a very talented actor, and really knows how to craft a tight and gripping story, with unexpected – but completely logical – twists to surprise and amaze the audience. The idea of showing both plays together works well and Director Kate Treadell, with Designer Anna Reid, use the space well and create two very different locations – complete with a change in seating – to separate the shows and make each a unique entity in its own right.
Overall, this was a really interesting evening. I personally enjoyed Moments more than Empty Beds but there is definitely something for everyone in both of the plays and at the end, I left the theatre, thinking about both and about the lives of everyone I had seen on the stage and wishing them all well in the future.
Review by Terry Eastham
Daniel and Ava are two strangers who at first glance have nothing in common. He’s 56, she’s 25. He’s a talker, she’s a listener. But after a series of chance (and awkward) encounters, it’s starting to look like they’re becoming… friends?
The Wyld sisters tend to avoid each other. Today they’re stuck on a train, en route to visit their brother for his birthday. In light of recent events, they’re determined to show a united front. But 250 miles into the journey, patience is wearing thin…
Ava/Catherine – Julia Cranney
Emily – Carys Wright
Jo – Debbie Brannan
Daniel – Simon Mattacks
Producer – Gennie Allcott
Director – Kate Treadell
PR Manager – Lauren Gauge
Designer – Anna Reid
Lighting Designer – Ali Hunter
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moments & empty beds
writer: JULIA CRANNEY / director: KATE TREADELL
30 Jan – 17 Feb 2018
Tues to Sat only