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Six Plays One Day by Threedumb Theatre at The Actors Centre

Darling, It's Not About You - Joel (Chris Mohan) and Susanna (Julia Thurston) in foreground, Michelle (Amy Leeson) in background
Darling, It’s Not About You – Joel (Chris Mohan) and Susanna (Julia Thurston) in foreground, Michelle (Amy Leeson) in background

The only detectable overarching common elements in Six Plays One Day was that the selected plays were all (mercifully) contained within a single act and constituted new writing. The breadth of the plays, collectively speaking, made for a deep and enriching experience, and such was the high standard of the productions that I came away rather refreshed instead of (as I had expected) more than a little jaded.

My Fern Flower by Jonah York sees Jonah play himself, or rather a character of the same name, whose younger brother, Jim, ten years his junior, ends up in hospital. Their mother passed away following complications after Jim’s birth, leaving Jonah and Jim’s father Malcolm to, in a nutshell, keep calm and carry on. Some good use of video projections is made at the start of the show, although the voiceover is so echoey it proved difficult to work out what was being said. A similar distortion appeared later, though here it was infinitely more effective, mirroring the confused state of mind as a result of multiple demands being placed on Jonah.

Not every aspect of the storyline was entirely convincing: who, apart from characters in the musical Wicked, has a relative called Glinda? I liked Jonah’s description of her though, likening her to rain on a sunny day that “doesn’t have the courtesy of leaving a rainbow”. There’s also a long-term girlfriend, Emily, and their new baby – no wonder Jonah is having trouble keeping a cool head. Live music (Adam Michalakis) accompanies this somewhat experimental production, which would probably go down a treat at somewhere like Summerhall at the Edinburgh Fringe. The reflective music at the close of the show left time to briefly reflect on the events that had just transpired, not forcing the audience to applaud immediately, which was a nice touch after a hard-hitting narrative.

Am I Happy Yet? written and performed by Jack Hesketh begins at the very start of a day in the unnamed character’s life, which made me smile if only because this young man has got to be one of the only people who wake up with their hair already combed – every day, if the show is to be taken literally (of course it isn’t). To answer the question posed by the play’s title fully requires an understanding of what it means to be ‘happy’ in the first place: and what makes one person happy does little if anything for someone else.

The character’s backstory is more than sufficiently detailed. Having been brought up in Glasgow, which he considers a “small city” (depending on which source you consult, Glasgow has around 600,000 inhabitants – more people live in Glasgow than in Edinburgh), he’s growing up faster than he initially recognises. Seeing a headline in the local paper that reads, “Man, 19, in car accident”, he is just as shocked that someone younger than him is described as a ‘man’ as he is at what happened.

Thoughts of ‘providing’, ‘protecting’ and ‘stoicism’ came to his mind, things which he feels he hasn’t yet had to do. A date night that didn’t go according to plan is recounted in almost excruciating detail – it’s also highly amusing, at least in retrospect: an incident with a spiked drink on a different night out inevitably less so. What becomes an exploration of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression is a captivating performance that held my attention from start to finish.

Is Trying Enough? by Melissa Hale has its characters facing multiple challenges. Despite the show’s title, trying for a baby isn’t one of them. Jay (Cameron Dobson) has had a spell in prison, having not managed to adhere to the simple rule ‘don’t get caught’. What his sister Lou (Megan Ryder-Maki) calls ‘dirty money’ (that is, proceeds from indulging in the drug trade) should have been sufficient to see to it that they did not fall into rent arrears. But other circumstances came into play, including their brother Tommy (George Barrs), on the autistic spectrum, being taken in by social services, resulting in a legal battle to regain custody.

Barrs’ Tommy is by far and away the standout performance here, portraying the mannerisms and behaviours of a highly intelligent young man, albeit one with trouble reacting to social situations – this isn’t helped, mind you, by Jay’s direct approach: I should have kept a tally of how many times Jay shouted “Shut up!”. The show’s critical incident was, as Lou points out, preventable, while the ending suggests that the rehabilitative effect of imprisonment is negligible at best.

Darling, It’s Not About You by Julia Thurston and Sof Puchley notably begins with rhyming couplets, and the poetry continues throughout. Joel (Chris Mohan) is at the centre of a love triangle, with the significant others being Susanna (also Thurston) and Michelle (Amy Leeson). There is plenty of talk about sex, which made me think of a lyric made famous by Elvis Presley, “A little less conversation, a little more action, please” – not that I was looking for a full-blown pants down demonstration, but the point about bedroom activity not necessarily equating to genuine love between its participants was too laboured.

Inevitably, at some point, both women find out about each other, though their responses seem to skip the initial outbursts of sheer anger and unrelenting pain. This leads to a relatively subtle and well-considered approach – the lack of melodrama is much appreciated by your reviewer. It is fascinating to witness (mostly through exposition here) what lengths people will go to in pursuit of what they believe to be true love, and an intriguing point is raised, explored brilliantly, towards the end about what loving the same person years later first meeting them really means, given that both parties are now older and wiser. Plenty of food for thought in this brief play.

Noodles for Breakfast by Yvonne Maxwell portrays the mind-numbingly repetitive nature of work in an outbound call centre. Gary (Matthew Bromwich) doesn’t get out much – he even lives a ten-minute walk from the office – but strikes up a good rapport with Kate (an engaging Robyn Lovell), a new starter. The number of calls they make is a decent enough re-enactment of how it is (I spent a day in a call centre some years ago, and unlike Kate, I never went back for day two). The play’s title is derived from Kate’s hangover cure of choice after a night out painting the town red – Gary, not having (or so he says) had an alcoholic beverage before, at 24 years of age, is introduced to the bars and clubs of the vicinity by his new party-loving colleague.

But what Gary perceives to be the honourable thing to do is deemed inappropriate by Kate, which reinforces his inexperience with regards to social interactions outside the workplace. Some late twists in the plot help to maintain interest in what quickly becomes a considerably darker play than it was when it started. Let’s just say there is mileage in the old adage to avoid mixing business with pleasure, setting boundaries between one’s professional and personal lives.

Songs of Innocence by Louis Gale contains some skilled actor-musicianship. Its six actors harmonise very well, and the costumes are appropriate to the period, which I guessed was at the start of the twentieth century until the year 1914 was specifically mentioned in a song. While the show portrays everyday life, such as brothers Arthur (Jonny Wise) and Jorgie (Joe Lindley) Hardy getting up to mischief as boys their age tend to do, it is not afraid of stereotypes. Lili Coste (Saskia Pay) is one of those no-nonsense, forthright and abrupt ladies, while the brothers’ mother Lizzie (Laura Noble) stoically holds the family together alone, following the passing of her husband. Completing the set of on-stage characters is Cecile Beaumont (Kate Kingston) and Barty (Louis Gale), and the rivalries between families in the same community clearly run deep.

The portrayal of the full range of human emotions through song was done well, capturing the highs and lows of everyday living. I did get the feeling, however, that things were generally going so swimmingly that a critical incident was about to happen that would shatter the characters’ lives irrevocably, but I did not in any way foresee the specific circumstances or the nature of the critical incident itself. For those of us living now, with constant access to news of what is happening in the world, there are two messages to take away from this poignant and powerful production. Firstly, there are lessons to be learned from history. Secondly, ignoring pressing issues affecting the world at large ultimately has its own consequences. Shows like this one certainly put our own everyday ‘problems’ a different perspective.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Threedumb Theatre returns to the Tristan Bates Theatre for another whole day of one-act plays, showcasing a wide variety of new writing.

Six Plays One Day by Threedumb Theatre
Six Plays One Day by Threedumb Theatre

Sponsored by the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.

My Fern Flower
Am I Happy Yet?
Is Trying Enough?
Darling, It’s Not About You
Noodles for Breakfast
Songs of Innocence

Featuring: Jonah York, Adam Michalakis, Jack Hesketh, Megan Ryder-Maki, George Barrs, Cameron Dobson, Julia Thurston, Amy Leeson, James Botterill, Matthew Bromwich, Robyn Lovell, Joe Lindley, Jonny Wise, Laura Noble, Saskia Pay, Louis Gale, Katie Kingston.

Saturday 8th February 2020
https://www.actorscentre.co.uk/

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