New Writing Part Three: Word:Play 3 - Box of Tricks (Theatre503 30/3/10) 6 April 2010

Here we are at part three. In addition to the LPC evening the week before, I bought a ticket to Box of Tricks Theatre Company's Word:Play 3. Box of Trick is 'a new writing company committed to developing and producing the best new work around; discovering, nurturing and promoting the next generation of playwrights. We are drawn to plays that have an immediacy and relevance today: stories that need to be told, the voices that need to be heard.' (click the blog title for more)

Word:Play 3, as the title suggests, is the third in their Word:Play series where six new playwrights are commissioned to write a 15 minute plays based on a single word. This year the word was - obsession. I have never really considered the idea of short plays as something I would find interesting. I've never found short stories to be as fulfilling as say a full length novel or novella so I figured I would have the same sort of reaction to a short play. I figured I'd give it a go.

Back to Theatre503, a full house again (I neglected to mention that fact for the LPC evening) but the atmosphere was different. I was sure there were more people in attendance not directly associated with the production.

Unlike the LPC's Crash Test Audiences, Word:Play was unencumbered by an existing on stage set. The stage was bare with the exception of black chairs and tables carefully piled in a corner and a large collage of newspaper clippings on the black back wall, not entirely legible with the exception of certain words.

First up - Shove by Kenneth Emson, directed by Hannah Tyrell-Pinder.

'And I started to feel like I was about to fall. Like I was about to come crashing to the floor and this feeling took me over'

This solo piece explored the feelings surrounding a particular incident involving being in a crowd, feeling people behind you and eventually being shoved to the ground. At the time I couldn't figure out what the incident was but once I settled into that I enjoyed it as a meditation on thoughts and emotions. Simon Darwen was wonderful in the role and the lighting and direction very appropriate to the switch of emotions throughout the piece. Honestly though I think I admired it more than enjoyed it. I'm not a fan of solo pieces, preferring interaction between two or more people to spark my imagination. I discovered later through one of Box of Tricks Theatre's tweets that it was about the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 riots last year.

Next - That Dark Place by Anna Jordan, directed by Adam Quayle

Nathan can't find his pen. He wants to write his confession. Constance fears the repercussions in a small community. But why are they guilty?

For this this one was a mixed bag. I really liked the story - a man wants to confess to something he probably didn't do, his wife has been trying to talk reason to no avail. What worked for me was Jonathan Harden's performance as Nathan. I believed his obsession and he played it as quiet desperation as opposed to wild crazy frenzy. What didn't work was his wife. I felt that her obsession - trying to convince her husband that he didn't do it - wasn't strong enough. And going by the snippet of information about the piece, she is supposed to be obsessed with what the neighbours are saying and thinking. I didn't get that at all as she seemed to be a foil for the husband. Also, I wasn't entirely convinced by the dialogue, I have an issue with characters over using the names of the person they are speaking to - people rarely do that. But, great story and good direction.

The last piece before the interval - With (Toxic) Love from Anna by Elinor Cook, directed by Hannah Tyrell-Pinder

Anna's new to London. But she left her heart in Australia. A funny and heartbreaking tale of a lonely girl in a big city.

What I really liked about this was that it looked at a few different issues. Most of us, I would imagine, have spent at least one relationship waiting by the phone, waiting for 'that' call. Times have changed and we now spend that time waiting on our computer, connected to many, waiting for one. And while we wait we interact with 'friends' both real and virtual. Without realising it we are basically attached to our computers in a way that's far more personal than we ever could have imagined. With (Toxic) Love From Anna looks at a young woman from Australia, in London on her own who is hoping her 'boyfriend' will miss her and get in touch. While she waits she sets up camp in the land online and pretty much cuts herself off from any real human interaction. A nice touch was the separation anxiety she suffers when her laptop is taken away for repairs.

I enjoyed the immediacy of the content but wished the performances were pushed a little more. We understand the pain of waiting for that email or having your computer taken away for repairs which can leave you with the most desolate feeling but that sense of urgency, the obsessive nature of the situation was missing. We got the sense of the situation through the writing but the performance didn't push it to the level I felt it needed to be seen as obsessive. I have to note that I attended the first of week long performances and I suspect it got stronger through the run. All the signs were there.

The first piece of part two - Awake by Hannah Nicklin, directed by Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder

Flo is lost. So is Jon. A story about new ways that we connect, disconnect, reconnect and plug ourselves into the digital age.

I had a problem with this one. Although I loved the premise, a woman wakes up in a place she doesn't immediately recognise. The only other person present is a man who speaks with in a strange stilted manner. We discover that they are in an online game and the man is the gaming character the woman has created. Great premise but I suspect the author had issues with constructing a story around it. We get stories about the woman's troubled relationships with family but it never really goes much further in relating that to the gaming character and understanding how that particular moment is important in her life. To be honest, I felt it was a bit clumsy in the writing department and ended up being fairly run of the mill and the obsession part didn't come through. Pity because the elements were - premise, direction - there but the writing let it down.

Next - Struck by Love/Train by Evan Placey, directed by Adam Quayle

Sarah fell in love today. Before she fell under a train. But she needs to break up with her husband. One woman's journey to find true love on the London underground.

This one was a great tour de force. A woman on a tube platform observes her dead body on the tracks below as she recounts the many different times she fell in love while riding the tube. She had recently fallen in love with a fellow passenger and tries think of ways to let her husband know. This had a wonderful stream of consciousness air about it with some very funny lines and great observations. I really got the sense I knew this woman. We all knew that he was in a sad state but it ever ventured into pity due to the direction and the performance by Natasha James who really inhabited the character but unfortunately fell into the trap of speeding through some of her lines to the point where they were lost. As with some of the others this was more than likely rectified and I wish I could have seen it again later in the run.

The last piece of the evening - Safety by Marcelo Dos Santos, directed by Adam Quayle

Ben's new to all this. Mark's a grizzled veteran. Olly's in love. Someone pass the tea. A daring black comedy set in swinging South London.

The evening concludes with a bang. Mystery, sex, sleaze and ultimately love collide in a very surprising piece. Two men and a boy sit in a flat, one of the men seductively whispers in the others ear. We're not entirely sure what's going on but based on the seductive quality of the man doing the whispering, Mark, we feel it's something sexual. What transpires is a game of sorts. The other man, Ben, has answered an ad but we're not sure what the specifics were. We are aware that part of the deal was getting the boy, Ollie, who at that point is with Mark and there seems to be the added extra of domination. Mark controls the situation, taunting and instructing Ben, using Ollie as a pawn and prize. It seems like an almost straightforward transaction, Ollie moves from Mark to Ben, but it gets more complicated. Mark has grown attached to Ollie, something that moves beyond the parameters of their situation and Ollie has fallen for Ben. This could have been just a quick look at the games people play but it's Jonathan Harden's performance as Mark which gives this piece depth. Portraying quite the different character from his performance in That Dark Place, he moves from being the sexual manipulator, the dominant force in the transaction to the one most hurt by the situation. A very subtle shift. Excellent. Of all the pieces this had the most elements to navigate and it was all done beautifully.

Overall a wonderful evening. There was a great attention to detail, not just in the individual pieces but as a whole, no clumsy set changes here, they were carefully thought out and made the evening seamless. I've come away a fan of the short play, not only can they be great launchpads for new writers, directors and lighting designers but also as a standalone theatrical experience.

One thing I paid attention to as well as the LPC performances was the audience reaction - the level of attention, the applause at the end.We are all acutely aware of how live performance affects audiences and vice versa and I wonder if we as arts practitioners should pay more attention to this because it's very difficult to fake an immediate response. I wonder if this could be more useful than filling in pieces of paper.

When we are more willing to accept that there might not be an enthusiastic reaction during or after a performance then we all could be a little more mindful of what we put on stage. There will always be a argument for and against how much one should pander to the audience but that's not what I'm speaking of. Writers write because they have something to say, because they want to communicate something to an audience. Whether or not this is communicated will usually be felt on the night. Putting everything in place to allow audiences to have the pieces affect them is a good start.

As the two artistic directors of Box of Tricks Theatre were also the two directors for all the pieces I feel it safe to say that they chose writers and pieces they believed in. They worked on them to give audiences the best possible experience of the highest quality. They proved that limited resources does not equal shabby and thrown together and they've shown me the value of theatre shorts.

How about this? Until pieces are completed how about presenting a 15 minute self contained (ish) segment as a finished short work and then listen, look and hear how audiences react. If we want the audience's attention we must pay attention to them.


Kenny said...

Check out Northern Star (Sun/Mon shows) and Accolade (Tues-Sat) at the Finborough. They feature Jonathan Harden and Simon Darwen respectively.