The Tron Theatre in Glasgow has joined many another venue in exploring the possibilities of audio drama during lockdown and have been releasing a weekly podcast recently that showcases some newly commissioned work from Scottish playwrights. There are now six plays n the collection which has been titled Earwig. The intention is that this so called “sonic theatre” is best listened to while wearing headphones/earphones to get the full effect intended by creator and sound designer Danny Krass, but I wouldn’t say that is an essential. The pieces range in form and content but are all under twenty minutes long so can be absorbed over a cup of mid-morning coffee, afternoon tea or night time cocoa.
The series opens with a burst of exercise in the form of The Deadlift by Stef Smith set in a gym where two weightlifters come to terms with themselves both physically and metaphysically. In between the actual lifting the pair muse about their lives and why they are taking part in something which can be gruelling. Suffice to say that both the participants have their reasons for being there which they articulate to themselves but, despite the fact that they start to converse, not to each other. It would have been interesting to see where this relationship goes but the short nature of this piece really does not allow for that eventuality. I found this to be a drawback in several instances. It was certainly the case with Fortunes by Jack Sutherland. A father (George Anton) and his daughter Evie (Saskia Ashdown) delve into Grandma’s handbag to investigate aspects of their own family’s past including illegitimacy, intimations of slavery, colonial oppression and accusations of witchcraft. That’s a lot to find in one handbag and unpack in fifteen minutes and the play really needs far more elbow room to cover the extensive and interesting topics under discussion.
A couple of the pieces I found purely baffling. Rejoicing in the somewhat extensive title of There Is Still Something Yet To Discover (or Baba Yaga Comes To You – When You Are Sleeping) by poet/playwright Hannah Lavery, it’s clearly the sort of piece that needs to be listened to more than once. Well, I did…but I still wasn’t sure what was going on. It appears to be an examination of motherhood with repeated allusions to the mythic Baba Yaga of Slavic culture but how the two gel together I really couldn’t say. Another which proved difficult to follow is The Last Dance by Morna Pearson. In this a young woman returns to her hometown for the festive season only to be confronted with some of the reasons she left in the first place. Underscored by a distracting throbbing soundtrack, it’s a dense piece which again would probably repay repeated listening – I’m afraid that this time I didn’t bother.
A first, I would hazard, for any drama is the investigation into the intimate life of the gastropod in Jo Clifford’s Slug Love. We hear from the slug(s) and also from a grandparent and child watching their activities. There’s a connection between the biological nature one of the humans and the creatures they are observing but it would be a shame to give that away here. Highly unusual and extremely thought provoking this is the sort of drama that only works as audio. Although complex it retains a clarity which its predecessors lack. The most straightforward piece, and delightfully so it has to be said, is Johnny McKnight’s Tikka. A young man cooks a curry for his friend while talking on the phone to his mother (Maw). She wants him to drop his defences and declare his love to those nearest to him; he would rather deflect and avoid. The plot (and the curry) bubble away nicely in the credible and humorous characterisations of Robbie Jack and Ann Louise Ross as the banter flies but she remorselessly chases down the heart of the matter. I found myself hoping for a second helping.
And that may well be a possibility as the episodes are declared as belonging to series one – implying that another is on the cards. Perhaps next time round it might be better to go for fewer but more extended pieces to avoid the impression that what we have is sketches rather than fully formed ideas. However, if you’re looking for a short drama which will last the length of time it takes to drink a hot beverage and dunk a biscuit or two then you won’t go far wrong with these.
Earwig is available on the Tron Theatre website – click here
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