Developed by Broken Silence Theatre for the digital segment of the Brighton Fringe Festival, Fragments is a triple bill of short audio plays celebrating playwrights from Sussex and the South East of England. Covering topics such as doubts and pressure, belonging and loss, each of the plays gets under the skin of the raw emotions that are seldom candidly talked about in public.
The first play, The Search (which is written by Tim Cook, and co-directed by Kitty Evans and Tim Cook) begins with a young woman’s yearning for clarity and change. Unable to coax her boyfriend to join her for walk on a hot summer’s day, Immy (who is played by Olivia Fenton) spends the day away from Lewes, East Sussex at the South Downs.
It is there, within the tranquil surroundings that we find the meat of the play. Hearing her innermost thoughts, Immy reveals the layers of her past and emotions, unveiling the universal fears of being alone, to live without finding one’s purpose and living as a ‘perennial failure’. “In truth, I’m drowning in the opinions and expectations of others.”
Events lead to a life-changing resolution of sorts, but what stays with the listener, long after the play’s finished, is the vivid details of life in Sussex, and how illness and mortality trigger a greater degree of honesty within ourselves with regards to the ‘big’ questions.
His Name Was Ryan (which is written by Emma Zadow and directed by Charlie Norburn) is a very different play. Taking place from the perspective of Janet (Caroline Basra), a junior nurse, we meet her at work in the A&E department of a Norfolk hospital. Through Zadow’s writing, we see how Jane’s perception changes throughout the day. Initially, she is very perceptive about her surroundings and despite a momentary panic, maintains a sense of professional emotional detachment. However, something about the teenager brought in reminds her of an ex-boyfriend, and triggers emotions in delayed and unexpected ways.
While the first half of the play focuses on the ‘mechanics’ of being a nurse, the second half touches on a seldom talked about aspect of their job – how the medical profession is considered in some quarters to be part of the same emergency service ‘team’ as the police and firemen. However, the play shows that Janet sees her vocation and herself as distinct from the police, and what some do in the name of ‘law enforcement’.
With this in mind, Janet wonders how Ryan ended up needing to go to A&E that day… But if she is an ‘individual’, then so are the police escorts that she meets at the end of her shift, and we see that empathy and connections appear in the most unexpected places.
Closing the trilogy, The Woman Who Sent The Nurses Away (which is written by Izzy Radford and directed by Eilidh Gibson) offers an unusual take on grieving, through a ‘larger-than-life’ woman and her grandaughter June (Efé Agwele).
Far from being a stereotypical older woman – quiet, of limited energy, avoiding fuss – we hear June’s grandmother had a zest for life and more in common with Catherine Tate’s ‘Nan’/Joanie Taylor, with her propensity to speak her mind.
Through June’s observations, we pick up on the gallows humour that permeates and clues of how her grandmother’s debilitating ailment led to her final actions. But the play doesn’t dwell unduly on such things. Instead, we hear of the many memories and traits they shared. For June, many of the ‘life lessons’ that she’s learnt from her grandmother have only ‘sunk in’ now that she’s gone. Wisdom learnt not by ‘just remembering’, but by living.
© Michael Davis 2022
Fragments can be listened to via the Brighton Fringe Festival box office at: https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/fragments-164638/