The FIRST Festival of Solo Performances returns to the Tristan Bates Theatre with a flurry of monologues from up and coming playwrights. Three works-in-progress make up the evening’s proceedings, all choosing to focus on issues surrounding personal trauma and working class life. Short and occasionally sweet, the festival is a somewhat hit and miss affair, some of the pieces being unable to tonally find their feet and falling a little flat.
We open with Forget Me Not from award-winning playwright and actress Susan Hodgetts. Geoff, played to mixed effect by James Lorcan, has suffered an accident, run down by a speeding police car, confining him to a wheelchair and a more sedentary life. His marriage has finally fallen apart after years of strain and distance, his wife Sheila leaving him for a new suitor. He keeps himself busy with the gardening, but is unable to cope without the care of his helper Julia, with whom he shares flirty frissons and cake and tea. Geoff tells us of his deepening affection for Julia with a cheeky inflection, making a hugely macabre twist at the end seem all too incongruous. Talk of brews and walnut cake turn to murder and the preservation of corpses in Geoff’s shed in a non-sequitur and tonally confused shift, somewhat undermining the initial frivolousness and whimsy that successfully drew me into the play.
The second and strongest piece of the night is Take Me Home, a subtler and consistently funny play by Healah Riazi. Matthew, played with impish charm and an endearing air of infantile excitement, is a 16-year-old working class school kid working as a cleaner in a bar. He lives with his increasingly xenophobic and right-wing father in Watford, his mother having died when he was a young kid. He’s a whiz at maths, in the classes of which he has befriended an introverted immigrant named Mustafah. The play comprises three running commentaries, which wind and weave into one another, all graced with the same boyish enthusiasm of the monologue’s refreshing central performance.
The final performance of the night came from Maria Thomas in Sean Burn’s Cocoon. It is the story of a young woman, taking refuge in an abandoned library after having lost her job and running away from her home and dysfunctional father. Overwhelmed by his erratic behaviour and deteriorating mental health, our central character reminisces about times gone by and the death of her mother, taking solace in her new found abode. It is a shame that the potential pathos of the play remains predominantly dormant due to a slightly underwhelming performance from Thomas, whose quashed emotional range transmutes into an interesting yet unaffected play.
Scratch Nights played as part of FIRST 2015 at Tristan Bates Theatre. For more information, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.