Box of Tricks presents two short plays that complement each other perfectly, both about head and heart, adolescence and opinions, desires and decisions.
Using only two chairs, two actors and a few props (design by Stephanie Williams) we watch Head Music by Elinor Cook and the life of Leah (Greer Dale-Foulkes) unfold. We first meet Leah as a strong-willed, hard-headed schoolgirl, winning her school talent competition, despite composing her winning piano piece in only 30 (“maybe more like 25”) minutes. Whilst being interviewed by the school paper’s budding journalist, John (Andrew Martyn-Lewis) she gives him a hard time, teasing and ridiculing him. He finds this endearing and, when she begins to describe in detail the intricate and compelling music in her head, he falls for her and asks her on a date. She refuses.
We skip years later and Leah, now a professional, highly successful musician, but a loner, turns up at John’s door begging him to go to Berlin with her. How the tables have turned. He agrees and they start their life together. But things start to turn ugly when her obsessive and compulsive traits begin to ruin her career and her relationship.
Head Music is about friendship and the struggles of holding on to a relationship. The writing is beautifully portrayed by the two, up-and-coming young actors. They give solid and commendable performances with a clear chemistry and a shared energy.
Up next, Heart in Mouth by Daniel Kanaber leads us along the trail of two stories, Helen’s and Barry’s (played by the same two actors) closely related but ultimately separate. Swift and drastic character changes, (in the same costumes) for one to play a part necessary to the opposite’s story, adds an excitement which may be missing otherwise. Slickly directed by Adam Quayle and put into practice by the actors as they waltz in and out of each others scenes. These are the strongest parts. I find it hard to keep up with both stories; I’m hearing them both but following only one (Helen’s), and only half-heartedly as I am conscious that I should be concentrating on them both. Perhaps it doesn’t matter as the writing is poetic and the acting is, again, superb. Although the two characters’ stories could have been more carefully and successfully interwoven, there were clear moments of brilliance when the two came together tightly and worked as a support for the one another.
Box of Tricks has cleverly placed the two new plays side-by-side, distinguishing between head and heart but also making clear the connection. The real praise though is for the two exciting and versatile actors who bring the playwrights’ words to life so effectively.