Pros: An efficient and affordable way to see dramas you might otherwise have missed, with clever set transition between the plays.
Cons: The Tennessee Williams choice is frustrating. Some lighting issues distract towards the end of the second play.
If you’re not the kind of person whose working life allows for frequent matinee shows or late night three-hour Shakespearean dramas during the week, it’s high time you considered Lunchbox Theatre, the lunchtime offerings of Lightbox Theatre. Performances, at the Bridewell Theatre just off Fleet Street, last 45 minutes and can consist of one or two short plays. In this case, an eclectic mix of a ten-minute Tennessee Williams piece, Every Twenty Minutes, followed by Caryl Churchill’s heartfelt Seagulls.
Every Twenty Minutes is usually published as part of a Williams collection, The Magic Tower and Other One-Act Plays. Several of its plays were turned into full-length pieces, but there isn’t a lot of mileage in this one. A bickering, bitter couple – known only as Woman and Man – unwind from a party by sniping at each other, still dressed in black tie. He’s largely indifferent to his wife’s complaints, playing loud jazz music despite her protestations, and refusing to apologise for cheating on her multiple times. He’s arguably more committed to the decanter and glass at his side.
She cites a newspaper statistic that one American commits suicide every twenty minutes; this only briefly becomes a talking point. His casual mention of a gun makes you think there might be some plot progression, but it leads to nothing. Rebecca Pownall and Liam Smith as Woman and Man do their best with a bad script, though Pownall’s Texan accent is more accomplished than Smith’s, which occasionally slips (he fares far better with a general American accent in the next play).
Every Twenty Minutes seems even colder when contrasted with the heart and warmth of Seagulls. If you had to be trapped in a lift with the characters from either drama, the choice would be obvious. Caryl Churchill takes what could be the impetus for yet another showy superhero movie – a woman’s lifelong secret gift, to move objects using her mind, has turned her into a media star – and gives it some good old-fashioned British self-deprecation.
The transition between the two plays seems clunky at first, with stagehands roaming in the half-light. However, this turns out to be a masterstroke in the context of Seagulls and its setting.
Carol Starks, as the telekinetically-gifted Valery Blair, is in her element. Her deliberately dowdy costume (pale green cardigan, shapeless brown maxi-skirt, sensible shoes) and wallflower status belies her formidable talent, taking her miles from working in Marks & Spencer and looking after her kids. The dialogue between Valery and her ex-colleague-turned-manager, the uber-efficient Di, is sparkling. Di (Rebecca Pownall) begins the play as a formidable Apprentice-style organiser, managing Valery’s many engagements such as an upcoming tour of America with a visit to Harvard. As Di deals with ensuing events, her polished veneer is soon stripped away and she provides much of the humour. Liam Smith captures the gentle enthusiasm and curiosity of a ‘Mrs Blair’ super-fan.
Faulkner has drawn out a much more nuanced and endearing performance from the cast this time. Some lighting issues did distract from the closing few moments of the play – as the lights faded far too early, then slightly brightened and faded again a few times, I did wonder if Mrs Blair was controlling them with her mind – but I’m sure these will be resolved.
The juxtaposition of these very different plays may appeal to some, but I’d have preferred to focus on the brilliance of Churchill alone.
Authors: Tennessee Williams/Caryl Churchill
Director: Emma Faulkner
Producer: Lightbox Theatre
Box Office: 020 7353 3331
Booking Link: http://www.sbf.org.uk/lunchbox-theatre
Booking Until: 21 July 2017