This month I’ve published two interviews with the fantastic playwright Matt Fox. He talked to me about his new play and the Swindon Madam Renards Mini Fringe Festival for Ocelot: read it here. And gave some great advice for people interested in writing for theatre — which also happens to be good advice for any aspiring writer. You can read that interview in Pie Magazine here.
I have to make a confession: I have tried my hand at playwriting and as such I get very excited when I see new writing that is challenging and engaging. I do enjoy going to watch Shakespeare and other classics but what really pushes my buttons is finding something new that has been done well.
To Sleep is a dark and comic play about two mismatched suicidal strangers. Martin (Peter Hynds) is a middle aged man who meets Hayley (Ellie Lawrence), an off-the-rails 17 year old, in an A&E waiting room. As the two start to talk to each other they realise they are both there because of failed suicides. It is often those areas in life that are most taboo: sex and death, in which there is the greatest opportunity for comedy. And when dealing with something as intense as suicide it is useful to have a release valve for all that pressure. When done well humour can be that release valve – it’s a brave thing to attempt to do, but it works well in To Sleep.
As the play progresses Martin and Hayley decide they will take their own lives together but it’s not as easy as they had anticipated. They reveal to each other their stories of how they came to feel the way they do. As the two characters journey together towards their own demise they form a bond that would not be possible with anyone else, and they help each other in their own weird way.
Ellie Lawrence’s portrayal of a seventeen year old who has nothing left to live for is close to perfect. There is something in the glamorous but unkempt hair, something in the half rolling of her eyes and condescending tone that tells of someone whose last defence is to push everyone else out.
All that is on stage throughout the play are three chairs which represent everything from a hospital waiting room to a leather sofa. The minimal set has the effect of focusing the attention on the characters and the intense relationship between them. Peter Hynds directs and acts in the play and presents us with a man broken by tragedy but still with a lightness of touch to make him warm and endearing.
Matt Fox’s script was very tight: effortlessly switching between humour and tragedy. The people of Swindon should be proud to be represented by him. His other work includes Swindon The Opera and the Madam Renards Mini Fringe Festival.
The next stop for To Sleep is The Camden Fringe in London on the 20th and 21st of August.
What struck me as the story of Mr Ripley started to unfold was how difficult it is to bring this particular story to the stage. Major parts of the story revolved around the exchange of letters, and Mr Ripley’s emerging dualistic personality also presents many problems for a stage adaptation. These problems were dealt with in a way that, rather than being problematic, added to the sense of paranoia and obsession that were heavily present throughout the play.
Tom Ripley (Joshua Foyster) – a minor conman – is sent to Italy to convince Richard Greenleafe (David Phillips) to go back to the United States to be with his family. However, once Mr Ripley does find him he starts to develop a deep and disturbing obsession.
Richard’s presence on the stage as a representation of Mr Ripley’s psyche cleverly portrays their almost-joint personality as well as being able to represent the arguments that Mr Ripley has with himself. The way the characters interact seamlessly on stage, even when representing conversations that are happening miles apart, through real or imagined correspondence, is a credit to Peter Hynds direction.
The story increases in tension as Mr Ripley’s web of deceptions starts to grow out of control. Like a coiled spring , by the end, there is a feeling that something has to give: one slip or one mistake and it will all be over and Mr Ripley will be revealed for the fraud he is.
- The Talented Mr Ripley is showing at Swindon Arts Centre on the 5th and 6th of July
If the audience were in any doubt as to the time period Abigail’s Party is set in, there wouldn’t be any once the curtains had been raised. The stage is transformed into an intricately furnished living room. There is orange and yellow patterned wallpaper on the wall, glass doors lead off into the kitchen, there is a fully stocked drinks cabinet and a record player complete with a collection of records. Much credit is due to the set designer, Howard Harrison, in creating this apparition of the past.
Beverly and Lawrence – played by former Eastenders star Hannah Waterman, and Martin Marquez – are hosting a party to meet their new neighbours Angela and Tony (Katie Lightfoot and Samuel James). The final guest is another of their neighbours, Susan (Emily Raymond), a divorcee whose wild teenage daughter is throwing a party in the house over the road.
All starts off normally. Lawrence is late home from work but he has to leave again to get the keys to a property which he is showing people around early the next morning. Beverly sighs and rolls her eyes at his lack of commitment to the party. Angela and Tony arrive and are plied with cheese and pineapple and gin. A jittery Susan enters, worried about the shenanigans going on across the road, which is not helped by the other guest remembering all the wild things that they did when they were teenagers and their parents were away.
As the evening winds on Beverly plies the guest with more and more alcohol and the smart suburban couples start to let themselves go. Like a loose thread being pulled, the relationships start to unravel: Beverly and Laurence argue, Susan, who is drinking on an empty stomach, becomes terribly drunk and Tony and Beverly flirt increasingly outrageously as the evening goes on. All the while Abigail’s wild party can be heard from across the road.
The play is at its best and most excruciating in the moments of silent tension. The comedy also comes from the perfectly timed reactions to the ever increasing combination of aggression and seduction. Mike Leigh’s script examines the differences between the generations as the two parties take place, one on stage and one off. The aspirations and shortcomings of the characters are laid bare with comic and engaging precision.
- Abigail’s Party is showing at the Wyvern Theatre until 1st June