An OnComm Awards Catch Up
Over the course of the last year, I have been following online theatre (Have you? Who knew?) and this has included a number of audio plays. The great advantage of this type of theatre is that the visual element is left to the audience’s imagination; it is also one of the biggest drawbacks as it seems to remove something essential from the experience. Audio playmakers have to be increasingly nimble in coming up with ideas that work through the ears rather than the eyes and there have been some very good pieces produced. One of the nominees shortlisted for the OnComm Awards in the audio category is a play called Not So Quiet On The Welsh Front. This was released last summer at the Reading Festival Fringe (online) but is still available on You Tube which seems slightly perverse because it is simply a sound recording – unless you like looking at a blank screen for 75 minutes!
The play is an adaptation of a one actor stage piece Lie Back And Think Of America by Natalie Wilcox which was in turn inspired by documentary film maker Noel Izon’s Choc’late Soldiers From The USA which examined how black American soldiers stationed in Britain formed relationships with civilians without being subject to the segregation they encountered back home. This is indeed the focus of one of the two main strands of the story as Sarah (Wilcox) and (G.I.??) Joe (Valentine Hanson) find themselves mutually attracted at a dance hall. Sarah reveals all to her father; her real dad is absent so she makes do with confessing to his photo while hiding under the kitchen table during an air raid. The other main element of the plot is the story of Sarah’s younger sister Lucy (Catherine Pugh) who finds herself “vacuumated” to Wales from the girls’ East London home to avoid the Blitz. It’s a tale which generally follows the expected trajectory. The fourth member of the acting team, Oliver Hume, acts as a scene setter being the voice of Lucy’s teddy bear, Humphrey. It is this last element which gives the play its point of difference though why the script had to clumsily keep telling us who was speaking every time he appeared, I don’t know. With his distinctive Brummie accent which clearly differentiated itself from the Cockney and Welsh tones of the other characters it really was quite obvious.
Although the story is about two sisters and their experiences during wartime it did seem to me that the two halves didn’t really gel and that one of the stories essentially diluted the other. It was only towards the end with the death of the girls’ brother and a soap opera revelation of gigantic proportions (but no spoilers here) that the two distinct elements became unified into a coherent whole. However, some important points are made along the way about families, prejudice and gender stereotyping which help to raise it above the mundane. It is also thoughtfully recorded with a clearly committed cast who skilfully play various roles apart from those already mentioned and there are some excellent sound effects which enhance the audio experience.
If you like a play with a straightforward structure, relatable characters and which will not make too many demands on your brain then Front Room Theatre’s Not So Quiet On The Welsh Front will help you to while away a pleasant hour or so. It’s nice to see traditional radio style drama being recognised in the OnComm audio category and I wonder how it will fare against its rivals; we will find out on February 21st
Not So Quiet On The Welsh Front is available as an audio production on You Tube – click here
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A full list of OnComm finalists can be found here