My five days of delving deep into the realms of audio theatre has been an interesting one and helped me to catch up on some of the material I had previously missed. Written On the Waves is an ongoing project from 45 North and earlier this week I reviewed the start of their second season with Lifted which consists of three short plays. This was also the case with the Season One opener called Loss & Hope and as I hadn’t engaged with this I thought it was high time that I went back and did so. While this trio was evidently a bit more of a “toe dipping exercise” back then when everything about theatre was being reinvented, it nevertheless provides some insightful material. All three pieces are in monologue form and, as this genre so often does, there are elements of the confessional about them all.
None more so than the first play We Have Sinned which literally takes place in a confessional box. Esther is a Catholic school girl whose libido is on the rise accompanied by a sense of guilt that this is the case and reveals all. Her certainty that she is in control of her own destiny is undermined by the revelations that she is swayed by peer pressure, demands from David who goes to the local boys’ school and by what she unhelpfully finds on the internet. Her school seems to have obviated responsibility with its perfunctory attempts to deliver sex education and her own family seems to be entirely out of the picture. Tife Kusoro’s script captures the realistic seeming voice of this particular teenager, and it is excellently delivered by Seraphina Beh whose outward assurance masks some clear insecurities. It is sobering to realise that Esther is only 15 years old.
At the same age at a key point in his narrative is Greg in This Is A Man which explores elements of toxic masculinity. Another confessional, this time in the form of an anger management group, forms the framework to the play. We hear what appears to be a diffident young man opening up to a meeting and struggling to articulate his feelings. This is no surprise as it has been a constant factor in Greg’s life. When still a teenager he experiences a family tragedy; he has to “man up” and deal with it through a regime of silence and muted emotion. His inability to speak (paralleled by his father’s own inarticulacy) means that the male mind becomes a pressure cooker of repression. This ultimately results in acts of violence without any concern for consequences. Liam Jeavons does a clever job of blindsiding the listener at the start which makes the revelations as he comes clean all the more shocking. Luke Barnes’ script ultimately pulls no punches – just like its central character.
The final piece in this trio is The Gift which is apparently an extract spun off from a work still in progress held back because of the pandemic. As such it is rather insubstantial in comparison to the other two plays (though neither of those could be classified as lengthy) and therefore seems frustratingly underdeveloped; a ring is lost and a relative is found and that is all there is time for. Though the speaker (Olivia Marcus) is again young, the piece lacks the element of a formal confession so doesn’t even seem to tie in thematically. Rafaella Marcus’ The You Plays (later contributions to the Written On The Waves series) have far more going for them.
As I’ve grown to expect from the work put out under 45 North’s banner, the plays are ably directed by Grace Cordell, Madeleine Kludje and Jessica Lazar respectively. Tom Foskett-Barnes provides well balanced soundscapes and incidental music in all three cases. I think later pieces in the Written On the Waves series provide more satisfying fare but as some theatrical hors d’oeuvres go, this trio provides a satisfying enough starting point.
Loss & Hope is available in Season 1 of 45 North’s Written On The Waves project – click here
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