Where: Live Theatre’s Studio Theatre
When: Wednesday 30 April 2014
Review by Stu Nimmo
This was different – a double bill! The two barrels on offer consisted of readings of the first halves of two new plays in development co-commissioned by Live Theatre and Juice (NewcastleGateshead’s festival for children and young people).
Performed by a mix of young actors from Live’s Youth Theatre, students from Gateshead College’s Performing Arts courses and professional actors this was a great mix of talent at various different stages of their acting careers.
Day Of The Flymo by Paddy Campbell and Peter Pam by Lee Mattinson were each locked and loaded, the trigger for Day Of The Flymo was pulled first, and bang! It hit home with undeniable accuracy.
This is powerful stuff, Paddy Campbell knows his subject matter intimately, authenticity bursts from every scene, his talent for creating layered characters full of humour, failure, success and contradiction is evident from the start. These characters are developed through an engrossing narrative which relates the stories of two families facing disaster.
Family number one is an underclass family of single mum and two kids living a chaotic lifestyle, mum is struggling/unable to cope and social services are stepping in to try to bring order. Sister tries to hold things together, convincing her 13 year old brother (who appears to have an attention deficit issue) to focus and pretend all is OK when the social services case worker visits. He tries hard and has some success, but ultimately he fails – with little or no parenting on offer he’s unable to stop himself from bunking off school, stealing, doing some very stupid things. This was all delivered with great humour and verve despite the serious subject matter. Performances in general were very strong with a particularly strong performance from Chris Foley as the brother – he managed to portray a 13 year old chaotic boy with great panache – exuberant when necessary and contained and self-aware when the scene demanded it.
The second family is altogether much more middle class, Architect father (played by the always superb Chris Connell – terrifying at times, perfectly reasonable at others) is becoming more and more obsessive about protecting his teenage daughter, he sees danger everywhere, he gradually loses all sense of perspective and locks her in her bedroom where he knows she’ll be safe.
A sub-plot linking the two family stories develops a romance between the jaded social worker dealing with the first family and the obsessive Father in the second family.
Performances again are strong, whatever these young actors are having for breakfast is hitting the spot perfectly.
The two male characters dominate the piece – they both have real depth and layers and the most obvious issues and so the actors have more to sink their teeth into. This is a play in development, this performance will no doubt have started cogs and wheels in Paddy’s mind working overtime for further development, if it’s this good at this early stage, blimey it’s going to be a great piece when it’s finished.
Next, the trigger for Peter Pam was pulled..and bang! A funny piece about friendship, being unpopular and controlling others emerged as four 15 year old girls arrived on stage and struggled with being nobodies. Beverly, Carmel, Daphne and Pam are not popular or cool, it would seem their only friends are each other. They have plans to become popular though – winning the school talent show with a girl band style rendition of Madonna’s Like a Prayer will do it, guaranteed no doubt, they’re rehearsing, and arguing about it. It will work…
The four girls are different, each with a personality of their own, this intricate mix of different personalities allying themselves with each other, arguing with each other is a complex business, particularly when Pam decides to pretend to be a boy, the perfect boy for each of her friends.
A few scenes in, Beverly raves about a boy she met in a forest behind her house – Peter (Pam).
In subsequent scenes each of the other three girls rave about Peter – sometimes he just walked past their homes, other times Peter speaks to them, takes them out. These episodes are related by the girls to each other, we hear about the dates, the meetings with Peter, we don’t see them.
Pam has created Peter, she dresses as him, and befriends each of her friends as Peter, being careful to only appear as Peter to one friend at a time. Pam makes Peter the prefect boy for each girl, but mostly he’s perfect for Beverly because Pam loves Beverly, she’s been obsessed with Beverly for years, now as Peter, she can be loved back by Beverly.
Once Peter is on the scene, the girls’ arguments revolve around who Peter loves, Daphne lies like a Politician and tries to convince them all that she and Peter got to second base – whatever that is? Carmel finds herself enamoured with Peter despite her parents’ strong religious indoctrination against such calamities. Beverly really likes Peter, begins to love him. Pam..? Pam pretends.
Lee Mattinson has created a world of female teenage angst and thrown in a time bomb in the shape of Peter. The dynamics of their friendship, their roles and their perceptions of each other are all thrown under the microscope. The revelation of Peter’s real identity (not made yet – something for the unwritten second half) will turn the girls’ relationships on their head.
Performances were good, each characterisation was portrayed well by the cast – there was a danger the four teenage girls could have become undistinguishable, but needless to say good writing and performances ensured there was no danger of that.
There was a question and answer session with Lee and Paddy after the two plays which explained a touch more about the plays and the current plans for them. It will be fascinating to see how they develop, I look forward to seeing the finished articles.