One of the downsides of theatre online is that there hasn’t been any way to replicate the after show chat. You know, the bit where you can air your views, listen (or pretend to) to the opinions of others and have a good old natter about what you’ve just seen. Sure, you can make comments underneath a You Tube video or do what I’m doing here and write a review; you may even receive feedback or get a discussion going. But it really isn’t a substitute for a face to face chinwag. It is great, therefore, to see video platform Scenesaver setting up an online theatre club (think book club but it’s about online plays) to fill this particular void. The club had its first meeting yesterday and if you’d like to get involved then all the details are on Scenesaver’s website – click here. There are three different days and timeslots to make sure everyone has something they can get to (or, if you wish, please feel free to go to them all) and I’ll be hosting the Monday evening sessions every other week at 8.00 pm starting on January 11th; it would be lovely to see you there.
Meanwhile, the first choice of play for the club to discuss was Breathe by Neil Bebber. This is a new writer to me which is always exciting and as the play has already received an OnComm award it boded well for what might otherwise have been a shot in the dark. It’s a monologue play which seems to have been performed in one take with the actor Jordan Bernarde making good use of the limited space at his disposal. It is not clear where the scene is taking place though I decided it was in a shed which the unnamed protagonist had inhabited after having fallen on hard times and become homeless as a result of….well that would be giving the game away. The tale that emerges seems to be part fact and part fantasy, but which bit is which is hard to pin down. It seems we have a classic take on the unreliable narrator who sounds plausible enough at first but gradually clues emerge that he is not all he seems. In the main thrust of the story we hear a tale of infidelity and perceived betrayal that nearly ends as a tragedy – indeed in an earlier incarnation of the play which is also online that is precisely what does happen. Why Bebber changed this aspect I cannot of course say, but I think by doing so he at least avoided falling into cliché territory.
Bernarde is a very watchable actor with the most extraordinary blue eyes; whether this is a natural phenomenon or the result of lighting choices is open to debate. Whatever the case, the penetrating stare is put to good use as he gazes down the lens and leaves telling pauses. He looks somewhat unkempt (which suits the character) apart from his carefully coiffed hair (which doesn’t). This is a minor quibble but when you’re playing somebody who is homeless and the attention is all absolutely focused on the one character these things tend to stand out. In one sense though Bernarde is not alone – he has a couple of interesting co-stars which are put to good use to flesh out the story (if you watch the play, you’ll see what I just did there – so there’s an incentive). Between Bernarde’s assured acting and some splendid writing from Bebber this piece, directed by Natalie Denton, is short and compact enough to hold the attention and I was glad that the Scenesaver Club brought it to my notice.
So much so that I was encouraged to see if another example of Bebber’s work was online. And indeed, there was – a even shorter piece called Ruby which is part of a suite of dramas by various writers under the collective name Pint Sized Plays. There is little ambiguity about this piece; it simply involves a discussion between a couple “celebrating” their ruby wedding anniversary. Although they toast each other with champagne there is literally no love lost between them. He has a big secret to tell and tells it; she has an even bigger one and retaliates. It all sounds terribly gloomy but is in fact written and played as, mostly, an acid tongued comedy and I did find myself laughing out loud a couple of times. I’m sure more than the ten minutes I had of these people and they would have simply become tedious, so the brevity of the piece is to its advantage. I can’t say I was overly enamoured of the performances of Amanda Miles and Gary Crane as the couple but their sense of comic timing was quite good and the writing itself is, once again, economical and well constructed.
At the Scenesaver Theatre Club we had quite a lively discussion about Breathe and although we tended to agree on the merits and less fulfilling aspects of the play it was a nice change to exchange views directly with a group of people who are equally passionate about their playgoing. It certainly helped me to focus my thoughts for the above review so that was a bonus. There’s one more Club session scheduled before Christmas on December 17th at 4.00 pm before the full schedule comes into play in 2021; why don’t you come and join us? You would be most welcome.
Breathe is available via Scenesaver – click here
Ruby is available on You Tube – click here
Details of the Scenesaver Theatre Club can be found by clicking here
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