This review was originally written for The Public Review.
Two groups of four plays over two sessions showcase new writing from recent graduates of The Tell Theatre Company’s playwriting course. It is a fantastic opportunity for the new writers to have their work performed in a professional production. The question is whether the production is fit for a paying theatre goer rather than being an evening for friends and family.
The first play, Hard To Swallow by Lee Broderick, portrays a newly released prisoner recruited for debt collection who subsequently visits a house to collect debt from a mother. Unfortunately, if there is any moral or sense of story in this piece, it is lost in the abrupt dialog, needless menace and confrontation. The ambition to fit in numerous theatrical devices is to be applauded, but the odd humour and contemporary references crowbarred into the piece sadly render it incomprehensible.
The second work is Denise O’Brien’s Social Work which concerns an octogenarian Edith, excellently played by Nia Davies, surrounded by young people from the neighbourhood with mixed intentions. This play started in an amiable enough way with natural, flowing dialog in a well-explained scenario. Then the introduction of the dubious character Mason, played by Can Orhan, marks a shift in
the drama. Regrettably, the portrayal by Orhan can only be described as a pantomime villain minus the jokes who is at odds with the other characters. This affects the fluency and rhythm in the second half and has a negative impact on the play overall.
Next up is Floor 17, Room 9 by Donna Palmer, set during a therapy session in a psychiatrist’s office in an authoritarian Britain after some major man made disaster. This psychological and political thriller draws ideas from George Orwell, the current rise of policing power in modern Britain, and the interplay of power reversal between the doctor and patient. The single scene construction helps with the clarity and continuity of the story and pays off with an understanding of the work from the actors. Dilek Latif playing Jenna the patient, has a voice that fits the role perfectly and also demonstrates intelligence and vulnerability. The only criticism is that the ending drags on slightly but the ambiguity of it keeps up the interest.
Finally, Alla Taha’s Neener-Neerner is set in South Sudan before the referendum for independence. It is an exploratory piece about the language used in a newly founded country with its associated new freedom and concepts such as corporation, democracy and infrastructure. It is a nice idea but the play is let down by some actors who not only read from the script without appropriate inflection or expression but worse still, pronunciation. Only snippets of the play can be heard and unfortunately, it is not possible to follow.
This is a mixed evening in terms of performance and writing, in subject matter and style, even for the standard of new writing in the fringe theatre scene. The responsibility of the production as a whole has to be that of the theatre company itself. It is their job to question whether the plays are ready for a professional production after a seven sessions playwriting course and whether the actors involved are prepared and appropriate for the parts. It is, of course, a great opportunity for the writers to have their plays performed but at the same time, their path of development has to be considered more carefully. It may be a good idea to keep these productions exclusively for friends and family rather than exposing the public to what is, unfortunately, a substandard production.