Pros: It’s great to see older performers and writers having their moment in the spotlight.
Cons: Some of the stories are hard to follow and there is an over-reliance on ‘big events’ for drama.
Scratches, by Spare Tyre, showcases works in progress from emerging writers aged 70 and over. The first, by Anita Lancet, opens with Anita herself, smiling but anxious, as film footage shows scenes of large crowds at auditions. When she starts to speak, it is to recount fragments of memory, from her childhood through to old age. Significant events in her life are mentioned but never fully developed, which seems like a missed opportunity; I would have welcomed more insight into fewer events. Anita has a very expressive face, and a halting delivery that she uses to great effect in conveying the emotion of the piece as, for example, when she talks about her husband’s illness.
Wink The Other Eye, written and performed by Fay Helm, tells the story of Marie Lloyd, ‘The Queen of the Music Hall’. Playing Lloyd with a brassy confidence, Helm takes us on a slightly chaotic tour of her marriages, divorces, trips to America and alcoholism. It is entertaining in its own right, and Helm has a good voice, that she shows off in songs that include My Old Man (Said Follow The Van). However, the storytelling is a bit confusing, and I had to refer to Wikipedia after the event for a clearer picture of Marie Lloyd. Her story is fascinating, and Helm has all the personality to tell it, but the story would benefit from the support of other actors and a more linear narrative.
The final piece, What’s It Worth, by Jim Mulligan, is a three-hander set in a hospice. Charles and Debbie are, respectively, recently bereaved and waiting to be bereaved. Both past the mid-point of lives that they rate six or seven out of ten, their initial hostility turns to friendship as they have frank discussions about life and death. They are occasionally joined in these discussions by the hospice manager, Mercy, who is played with quiet assurance by Alma Ramnauth. Some of the issues covered in this short play are ripe for discussion in theatre; palliative care and the business of watching someone die, assisted suicide and faith in an afterlife are all important subjects that we approach with trepidation. Sadly, this piece touches on so many different issues that it struggles to do justice to any of them. A passage about genocide is moving and appropriately horrifying, but also feels slightly gratuitous in the context. The same can be said for some fairly graphic passages about sex.
The friendship between Charles and Debbie blossoms convincingly, and their final scene is very poignant. These are interesting characters who deserve further development, but also a rethink of parts of their backstory. The hospice setting has great potential as a backdrop to soul-searching, black humour and intimacy. However, between bus crashes, strippers and genocide, Mulligan relies rather heavily on shock and awe for his drama. There is ample dramatic potential in the fact of these two lonely characters meeting in such circumstances; Mulligan could have more faith in this aspect of his story and edit out the rest.
Overall this was an interesting scratch night, with some winning performances. It will be good to see how these pieces are developed further.
Authors: Anita Lancet, Fay Helm, Jim Mulligan
Director: Gavin Dent
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run at the Blue Elephant Theatre, but can be seen at Redbridge Drama Centre on 20 November 2014 and at the New Diorama Theatre on 22 November 2014.