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.
If you’re lucky enough to live in Swindon, Salisbury, Newbury, Reading or Oxford then pick up an issue of the Ocelot and read my new theatre column. If not, don’t worry, you can read it here. It’s all about what Swindon’s TS Theatre Productions are up to, so check it out!
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film is given an imaginative reinventing in this comic stage production. The story follows the hapless Richard Hannay (Richard Ede) as he accidently discovers a secrete spy ring and is pursued around Scotland whilst trying to find out the truth. Like any good hero, he sets about getting the girl and saving the day while he’s at it. Richard Hannay feels like he’s straight out of a 1930s film, complete with three piece suit and pencil moustache. Ede’s over the top performance adds to the fun absurdity of the whole production.
The highlight of the show was its imaginative use of the set. Rather than being confined by the limitations of telling a story on stage, Maria Aitken’s direction makes use of the props to their full comic potential. Particularly funny is the door on wheels that is slid around the stage to represent every internal and external door in the whole production.
A lot of the comedy comes from playing with the idea of what can be done on stage. The two actors, Tony Bell and Gary Mackay, play a host of characters in hilarious role swapping, gender swapping mayhem. At times it seems difficult to comprehend that there is only a cast of 4 people.
When there are not props sliding around the stage or actors engaging in split second costume changes, the atmosphere is created by cardboard cut-out shadows puppets and conspicuously badly timed smoke machines.
The frantic pace of the show keeps the audience on their toes from beginning to end. There is something wonderfully British about the wacky, over the top characters and the unlikely situations that they find themselves in.
Beautiful Thing is a love story following two teenagers, Jamie (Dominic Baker) and Ste (Joshua James Foyster). They battle first with themselves, to come to terms with their sexuality, and then against the prejudice that exists in their working class estate.
As much as this is a play about sexuality, it is also about family. We get an insight into Jamie’s complex and often turbulent relationship with his mother (Sarah Lewis). The story takes place outside three houses and these neighbours also become a sort of dysfunctional family. The dark side of family relationships is also explored with abuse and emotional breakdown. But don’t be put off; this is an uplifting story that will leave you with a smile on your face.
The production authentically captures the feeling of the deprived estate where the story takes place. Jamie’s mum and his defiant teenage neighbour, Lea, clash throughout the play. Ella Thomas brings believability to Lea’s larger than life character and Sarah Lewis is utterly convincing as Jamie’s conflicted single mother. The deeply flawed but loveable characters are well thought out and performed in a way that is a pleasure to watch on stage.