My Car Plays Tapes: a title that will surely make those of us of a certain age smile in recognition. Of all the mediums that we have consumed music on in our lives, the tape seems the most romantic of all. Oh the joy of those teenage years trying to record your favourite songs from the radio, fingers poised on the record button and just hoping the DJ didn’t talk over the intro! Or spending a whole day planning a mixtape for your latest girlfriend, carefully curating 90 minutes of songs over two 45-minute sides, hoping she would love every song as much as you do.
It’s such romanticising of the simple things in life that is very much at the heart of John Osborne’s show. He rattles through his eloquently written prose; more a collection of short little ditties, very loosely tied together around the car in which that tape player resides. It all begins with the story of being gifted the car, which sets him off on his journey of discovery. It allows him to take one of the people he cares for in his role as support worker on car rides to the café, then onto longer trips to do poetry readings in quaint village halls, with characters which make us nod knowingly, having met them in our own lives. And it all comes full circle when he gifts the car to another friend, allowing him to pass on the same friendship that was shown to him originally.
Osborne is delightfully charming, in a shy reserved way. This is more poetry recital than theatre, as he stands behind his mic delivering his story, his soft Norfolk accent making it sound even more delightful. He breaks things up occasionally by pressing play on one of the tape players on stage with him, allowing us to hear snippets from his tape collection, no doubt lovingly recorded from the radio all those years ago.
But it’s this simple delivery that may be part of the problem for me. Watching via The Space’s (always fantastic) livestream rather than being present in the same room as Osborne, he seems a little too reserved; not doing quite enough to engage you in his tales. What makes it worse is that it appears he has his script on the table beside him, and every couple of lines, he glances down to his right as if to check where he is. Once noticed, it became almost impossible not to notice every time he did it. I found myself getting more frustrated the more it happened. I’d have much preferred it if he had just held the script up in front of him, thus avoiding the glancing down. He eventually did this when he came back after a short break to do a brief reading from his upcoming show. And with script firmly in hand, it made for a much smoother and less frustrating delivery.
Personal annoyances aside, there is a beautiful charm to the storytelling here. As Osborne brings the story full circle and tells us of passing the car on with the same warnings he himself had received, it’s impossible not to smile and reminisce back to old cars I once owned, together with their own tape players. I can imagine that being in a small room hearing Osborne deliver his poetic lines would make this a much more fulfilling experience that watching from afar. But even from the other side of the screen, it is clear that he is a man of charm and wit, with a wonderful lilt to his voice that could make even the phone book sound delightful.
Written and directed by: John Osborne
My Car Plays Tapes is on at The Space until 5 March. The show will be available on-demand for a further two weeks.