At the start of 2020, Southwark Playhouse commissioned five playwrights to pen brand new short plays for performance by the Elders Company, its weekly drama group for anyone aged 65 and over. Once lockdown began, the theatre worked with the writers to adapt their plays for audio and last summer, members of the Elders Company gathered in small, socially-distanced numbers at Southwark Playhouse to rehearse and record them. All the plays were directed by Toby Clarke, while the original music, engineering and sound design were created by Roly Botha.
While not exactly a ‘black comedy’, Puffins – which is written by Sophie Ellerby – certainly takes a less austere view of death in general. Performed by Mina Temple, Jan Woods and John McRae, we meet Rose and her best friend Gwyneth, who is ready to scatter her late-husband’s ashes. While Rose’s husband Bob goes to the bottom of hill to buy sandwiches for everyone, the lifelong friends end up having a very frank conversation about their respective lives.
The contrast between these friends is what one notices immediately. However, as we get to know these women, we realise they have more in common than meets the eye – though this is something Rose would rather forget… Certainly their experiences of marriage are rather different and as such, Gwyneth’s feelings about her widowhood and ‘freedom’ oscillate between guilt and relief…
For the past year, the death toll of the coronavirus has been on the minds of most people. Without thinking too deeply, a ‘world without death’ would on the surface be a good thing. But what would be the long-term ramifcations for such an enterprise?
In Stewart Melton’s Time Lapse, we meet three sisters (played by Maureen Rose, Karla Ptacek and Roz Borley) who are affected by a death in the family. Every year on Sophie’s birthday, the sisters meet up to remember their sibling who died as a result of cystic fibrosis.
The youngest sister Angie is the most dutiful of three in ‘observing’ the birthday and is naturally inclined to pray. Minny, meanwhile, is more cynical by nature – qualities that keep her in good stead as a politician. She’s initially not sure if their ‘observance’ of their sister’s birthday should be treated as a ‘wake’ or as a solemn remembrance.
Perhaps the person who is the most profoundly affected by Sophie’s death is Lucy. As a virologist, Lucy knows only too well how cruel nature can be. But she also knows the ‘expiration date’ that is ingrained in people’s DNA is the key to unlocking the potential for human longevity…
Before the play tackles the social ramifications of ‘cellular conversions’, it takes its time with setting up how potential ‘immortality’ might be perceved at a ‘grass roots’ level. But as we’re introduced to the arguments for ‘compulsory vaccination’, regardless of one’s wishes, we also hear about the rise in population and the ‘circumvention of the natural order of things’. Then there’s the question of ‘humanity’. Death is what gives meaning to the lives of human beings, our precious limited time dictates our priorities and actions. Without such existential parameters, would we even remain ‘human’? In many ways Time Lapse takes a fresh approach to the themes Bernard Shaw explored in Back To Methuselah.
Even though the British Empire came to a natural end after the Second World War, closure for the former colonies isn’t universal, even decades later. For some members of the Establishment, the returning of outstanding lands to the indigenous people plays ‘second fiddle’ to their own economic well-being…
Performed by Meena Agrawal, Teresa Malski and Sasha Winslow, Justina Kehinde’s Red Tide looks at present day Kenya and the economic forces that battle for its soul. Arriving in Nairobi on a budget flight, Lady Verity Beaumont meets Frieda Bas – the representative of a Kenyan realtor. Having leased some ‘private’ land off Lady Beaumont, the Bas Corporation is meant to pay her additional annual fees. However, these have not been forthcoming – a situation linked to Lady Beaumont’s estranged sister Catherine…
Red Tide does a good job of conveying the characters’ motives and in the case of the sisters, intimating that each sibling has erred before revealing their personal circumstances… ‘Controversially’, the play offers a cyncial view of ‘ecotourism’ as a concept – deemed by Catherine as an ‘oxymoron’ which doesn’t help the environment at all.
© Michael Davis 2021
Puffins, Time Lapse and Red Tide can be listened to at: