Moments & Empty Beds, Hope Theatre – Review

Daniel (Simon Mattacks)

Do you see the same faces travelling to- and from work? Of course you do. Ever thought to say hello? Strike up a conversation? Perhaps not, especially if you’re based in London! Taking the common commuting experience as a jumping-off point, Pennyworth Productions are currently showcasing two one-act plays – Moments and Empty Beds.

Directed by Kate Treadell, Moments stars Julia Cranney and Simon Mattacks as Ava and Daniel, the commuters in question. The early part of the play has Cranney and Mattocks narrating, each describing what the other’s said and done. This early period emphasises the parallels between the two and the unspoken worries that each have. Recognition of each other on ‘their’ bus leads to them offering seats to each other, but it is a spur of the moment decision by Ava that forever changes the nature of their ‘relationship’.

Cranney – who wrote Moments as well as plays Ava – shows she has a keen sense for avoiding the predictable and actively subverts expectations. The initial loneliness of moving from ‘the provinces’ to London are well-realised, as are the ambivalent feelings towards phone calls from family – something that’s seldom talked about in plays from young playwrights. Similarly, the ‘loneliness’ in long-term relationships that have soured and the ‘helplessness’ of it all are deftly captured.

Empty Beds, in contrast, is both modern and influenced by the classic plays of the past. Catherine (Julia Cranney) and Jo Wyld (Debbie Brannan) are travelling to ‘the South’ to visit their brother Michael. En route to their final destination, they arrange to meet up with their sister Emily (Carys Wright) in London, who lives there now as a student. However, Emily’s lateness means they’ve missed their connecting train. Asides from potentially reducing the amount of time they can spend with Michael, their ‘tardiness’ may spur him to turn them away…

L-R: Julia Cranney, Carys Wright and Debbie Brannan

Through Emily and Jo’s interest in Catherine’s life, we learn about the other sisters’ attitude to relationships, as well as how much they actually know and trust each other. As for Catherine’s ‘surprising’ choice for a ‘boyfriend’, once other events are disclosed later, her ‘irresponsibility’ can be seen as a way of ‘letting off steam’ after all the things she’s done for the family.

There are similarities between the Wyld family and the Prozorovas in Chekhov’s Three Sisters. In each case, the sole brother has a lot of sway in the sisters’ lives, with some more critical of this dynamic than others. However, the relationship with the brother is used as barometer to understand each of the sisters. Jo – Michael’s twin – is highly agitated by the day’s events, wanting to spend as much time with her brother on her birthday. Catherine, the eldest, is less concerned about the trains, but she has worries of her own. As the ‘middle child’, Emily is the the odd one out, by virtue that she moved out of Liverpool and seldom sees her sisters anymore. She’s also lost most of her accent, leading to ‘accusations’ of having ‘gone posh’.

Catherine (Julia Cranney) / All photos © Nick Reed

While the sisters are as different from each other as can be, the ‘earthy’ banter they share regarding flatulenece and menstruation show that regardless of opinions, there’s nothing ‘taboo’ that they can’t broach in conversation. In theory at least…

Cranney’s original writing is one of the greatest assets of Pennyworth Productions, able to draw inspiration from everyday life and it give it an extraordinary poignancy. On the strength of their latest offering, it won’t be long before they are as well-known as the more seasoned theatre companies working in the UK today.

© Michael Davis 2018

Four-and-a-half stars

Moments and Empty Beds runs at the Hope Theatre until 17th February.

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