I enjoyed my “trip” to Brighton yesterday so thought I would try another (unofficial) double bill which had caught my eye with two more short plays from The Living Record. They have a big online presence at the Fringe Festival with a highly varied programme of content. This time relationships are the leading theme and I suppose both plays could be described as love stories … but at the same time they are something rather more and highlight a degree of the disconnectedness which many of us have experienced and perhaps suffered from in the last year and a bit.
Finney’s Ghost seems to give a clear indication in its title as to which way the story is going to go. Pearl has certainly noticed the homeless Finney but is rather surprised to find herself the recipient of all his worldly goods after his sudden death; his final act is an icy dip in Regent’s Park. His belongings are in a small battered suitcase which Pearl eventually gets round to investigating; they include a large cache of photos taken around London locations. Many are inscribed with literary quotes from Shakespeare, Karl Marx and William Blake – the latter particularly lends proceedings a mystical air. Among the collection Pearl starts to find pictures of herself though she is totally unaware that these have been taken. Naturally she wonders how this has come to be and begins to piece together the fragments of the dead man’s life from the photos and various other items in the case to the point where he starts to become an ever present figure in her consciousness. Was he a stalker? And in that case is Pearl similarly inclined as she tries to solve the mystery? Is she even beginning to fall in love with him, or the idea of him?
Eleanor Barr plays Pearl mostly in voiceover and opts for quiet understatement. The script by David Fox is poetic and lyrical in tone and shares some thematic similarity with Stephen Poliakoff’s drama Shooting The Past. Fox is also responsible for filming and editing and does an extremely good job at both. He is aided by having some stunningly realised photographs of London from Christopher Walker and Tony Hall to work with – the night time shots are particularly evocative and those of Regent’s Park in the snow have an appropriately haunting quality. Although badged as a ghost story don’t expect any shock moments – it really isn’t that kind of story.
Also largely understated is the two handed Always On My Mind by Liam Alexandru. I say two handed but Charles Lomas and Lucy Syed actually play four parts. They are Curtis and Stacey who used to be in a relationship, but this ended six months previously. They have agreed to meet up online to catch up though I wasn’t convinced that Stacey would particularly have agreed to this; Curtis still clearly harbours feelings for his ex though made the mistake of not declaring his hand at the time. The two actors also play Jack and Jill the couple’s interior monologues who comment on what is going on and who are rather feistier in their attitudes. This is a clever idea although it seems perilously close to Peter Nicholls’s Passion Play which used a fairly similar conceit.
Lomas and Syed differentiate their two personas well and, as this is a filmed and edited version, are able to appear with themselves simultaneously with the alter egos commenting vociferously over the main characters’ shoulders. This all works pretty smoothly though the brief flashbacks to the actual relationship are rather clumsily done with continuity errors undermining the effect and the difficulties of filming which are thrown up by lockdown/social distancing highlighted. At under 20 minutes the piece is brief enough to retain interest and a nice twist in the final moments leaves the way open for a sequel.
The other query that kept crossing my mind with both these plays is just how far you can take filming and editing of a piece before it ceases to be theatre and becomes film. It’s a debate that I have had with myself and others for many months now and I don’t think I’ve resolved it in my head yet. These two pieces don’t claim to be anything they are not so at least you know what you are buying into. My real niggle in other cases is with the overuse of the word “livestreamed”. This is starting to become an umbrella term used to suggest something is happening in real time when on many occasions I’ve found myself watching a streamed recording which was originally filmed live. I can’t help feeling that’s a bit of a cheat!
Finney’s Ghost and Always On My Mind are currently available as part of The Living Record at the Brighton Fringe Festival – click here
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