Tackling everything from class, race, gender, mental health and LGBT issues, the new writing nights arranged by Actor Awareness have been productive in terms of quality and quantity. The four plays selected for Actor Awareness’ ‘Best of Scratch 2017’ by Stephanie Silver and Tom Stocks cover these topics and more besides.
Compèring the evening, host Stephanie Houtman sings a number of songs before introducing the short plays. However, bookending these are two other skeches by Tom Stocks. Under the collective title of Brittle Britain, the first sketch (The WAGAF Party) takes a satirical look at the three main political parties in the UK. Anybody expecting the Lib Dems, however, will be surprised (or perhaps not…) by who the third really is – the Who Gives A F*** majority…
CAST: Hue Cox, Sarah MacKenzie, Stephanie Watkins, Elliot Blagden
Written and directed by Michelle Payne, Full Circle addresses mental health among young women and having access to support groups. Living at home with her parents, but with no social network to speak, Nicole (Elicia Moon Murphy) acquires funding to set up a mental health group for her locality in Essex. Her first ‘recruit’ is Amy (Kate Kelly) who is generally more experienced about life, especially when it comes to how mental health is prioritised within the NHS. However, they share a bond through their respective experiences. Skye (Lucy Gape) on the other hand has a very different temperment. Her initial tongue-in-cheek remark about it being a “nutter’s group” goes down like a lead baloon and her general demeanour is sanguine – on the surface not as ‘serious’ as the others. But like the proverbial comedian who hides a deep-rooted sadness, there’s more to Skye than meets the eye.
Full Circle brings into focus how poor mental health can take a toll on close personal relationships and the ‘gap’ between expressing one’s thoughts and feelings to those who have no common frame of reference. As a natural offshoot of this, what is ‘appropriate’ and ‘correct’ is discussed, with Nicole and Amy generally agreeing on tone when addressing depression itself, but Amy finding it very cathartic to swear and vent her emotions. However, the emotional core of the play lies in Skye’s final monologue, her troubled relationship with a girl from work and the ‘power’ one has over the other.
Directed by Shaddi Rad, Vicki Connerty’s Come Die With Me takes a sardonic look at funeral arrangements with a UK-based family. In many ways the family are quintessentially English, but on this occasion they follow the old Irish custom of having the body ‘lie in state’ at home, before being taken to the funeral the next day. In some ways the humour and insights come from the small, unsentimental observations – the costs of embalming and other funeral arragements, the pros and cons of seeing the deceased one last time and the bittersweet nature of remembering the past.
CAST: Helen – Stella Ross, Rachel – Charlotte East, David – Jack Spencer
Envisioning a Britain where the powers-that-be have adopted the same draconian ‘standards’ as the Trump administration, Colleen Prendergast’s 2022 is a wake up call to the security versus freedom debate. In xenophobic post-Brexit Britain, the restriction on ‘undesirables’ has led to an official ban on Muslims entering the country. Stopping Selwa (Lauren Santana) from going through customs with her baby, Colquhoun (Deborah Wastell) and Gower (Richard Innocent) enforce the restrictions. When Colquhoun temporarily leaves the room, Gower is persuaded to momentarily hold the baby – leading to severe consequences…
The reason 2022 works as well as it does is the play is driven by the personality of the characters. While Colquhoun is unflinching in her beliefs and adherence of ‘the rules’, Gower does the job so that he will eventually earn enough to afford bigger accomodations so that his estranged wife and child will move back in with him. Ironically, the border controls are not so much a deterent from undesirables, as a way of sifting those are naturally empathetic from such duties. Also, the coda of the play is one of the most chilling I have witnessed, and I’ve seen Sarah Kane’s work performed live…
The final main play of the evening’s an extract of Stephanie Silver’s Our Big Love Story. Directed by Calum Robshaw and set in the wake of 2005’s 7/7 bombings, Our Big Love Story touches on a variety of subjects, chief of which are prejudice, faith, love and healing. Two ‘couples’ drive the narrative of the play – Destiny (Holly Ashman) and Anjum (Maria Kolandawel) plus Jack (Alex Britt) and Katie (Emelia Marshall Lovesey). As the ‘star cross’d lovers’, Destiny and Anjum first notice each other at school. Destiny ignores the bigoted opinions of her father about ‘people of colour’ and for a time it looks like her love for Anjum is unshakeable.
While plays like Stuart Slade’s fictional BU21 taps into the natural emotions that emerge in the aftermath of a catastrophe, Our Big Love Story recalls the ambient paranoia in London post-7/7 and through the character of the teacher (Arjun Bhullar), the suspicion held for Muslims or any person of colour at that time…
The evening closes with The Immigration Game – the second of Tom Stocks’ sketches. With the same cast from the earlier sketch, the satirical nature of the piece dovetails into the themes from the beginning of the evening, as well as taken the notion of ‘Britain for the British’ to its logical conclusion.
All in all, a thought-provoking selection of plays that have highlighted the year’s pressing topics.
© Michael Davis 2017
Actor Awareness ‘Best of Sctach 2017’ ran at Spotlight Studios on 4th December.
Our Big Love Story runs at Hope Theatre from 20th March to 7th April.