I’ve been working my way through the National theatre of Scotland’s project Scenes For Survival for the last month (see below) so I thought it was about time to catch up with some of the other short length material that is out there in the ether. The Young Vic has ten such pieces, so I thought I’d split them into two groups of five and take a look over this current weekend. A whole two days at the Young Vic – that’s a bit of a treat. The first tranche of Young Vic Digital consists of pieces written in response to a main house production. Here they are in chronological order of the time the original plays were written.
That makes the first piece Bed Trick which is inspired by Middleton and Rowley’s 17th century potboiler The Changeling which ran at the Young Vic in 2013. Director of both that play and writer/director of this response, Joe Hill-Gibbins, has taken the convention from Jacobean drama and given it a very modern twist. And I can guarantee you won’t see what’s coming. Babysitter Rachel fetches up at the home of harassed Beatrice who has hired her for the night. She’s somewhat surprised to be told to use wine to “dose up” her charge but that pales into insignificance when she’s handed an envelope containing £400. Then she’s shown to the playroom… It made me laugh out loud and as it stars Monica Dolan it was always bound to please; Sinéad Matthews plays sweet natured Rachel. It’s perfectly crafted and a great way to start on these short plays. There’s more on how the piece was created in this accompanying article from The Guardian
From the 17th to 19th century next and two responses to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House which Carrie Cracknell directed, again in 2013. In Nora, also directed by Cracknell we meet a modern counterpart of the central character. She has even more to contend with as she juggles childcare, home and work duties, quickly bringing her to breaking point. Hattie Morahan, who won many plaudits and several awards for her portrayal of the dissatisfied housewife in the Ibsen play is also modern Nora here. She always seems to be running to catch up and looks suitably frazzled. There’s really not much by way of dialogue even though both Cracknell and Nick Payne are credited as writers. The piece comes to an abrupt end with little by way of resolution, but I suppose that’s in keeping with the original. However, I think you’d get infinitely more from the Ibsen play; the Morahan/Cracknell production is available on the Digital Theatre platform (click here), which reminds me that it’s still on my “to see list” .
The other response is called Under My Barbie Duvet which is described as “a flay” (film/play); an intended live piece which then had to be filmed due to social distancing requirements – this comes from 2020. Shirelle is in Year 11 and has a date on Valentine’s Day. She initially plans to keep her friends in this particular loop by live streaming the event but then there’s a silence. In one last posting on her social media account – Shirelle reveals all. This piece by Annie Jenkins makes extensive use of rather basic animation and is very much in the modern idiom; in other words, there were bits I didn’t understand. While this may be the way real teenagers speak I just found it annoying and lazy. To be honest (suppose that should really be TBH – Lol!) I would have been hard pressed to recognise that this had anything to do with Ibsen’s play but as the Young Vic website says it does I suppose that must be the case. Not for me – but then, I don’t think it was meant to be.
Next up was The Departure, a prequel to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson reprising her role as Blanche Dubois and filmed as the run of the main play came to an end. We see Blanche in her room, drinking and smoking until a group of men outside calls up to her persuade her out again. In the next scene she returns and haphazardly packs a suitcase before falling into bed. Evidently it is the night before she leaves to visit her sister Stella where the events of the main play take place. Finally, we are in a different location in a scene that presumably takes place chronologically between the other two. It’s likely that this is a hotel and after a man emerges from under the covers and leaves, Blanche is visited by a policeman who warns her that there have been complaints laid against her concerning a young student. Writer Andrew O’Hagan goes into little more detail than Williams himself about the precipitous nature of the event, there’s just sufficient to clarify why Blanche goes on her fateful visit to New Orleans. In contrast to the busy camerawork used to capture the restless nature of the main play, Anderson’s direction keeps a single shot viewpoint throughout and produces a piece with an almost dreamy atmosphere which will be appreciated by fans of the Williams’ original. Anderson’s rewarding turn as Blanche is on the National Theatre At Home platform (here) and is reviewed here.
While Mayday isn’t a prequel to Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, it does place a woman in a similar situation. May is bedridden with an unspecified disability. Outside her home the environment is finally wreaking its revenge on humankind and there has been an earthquake in central London. As May awaits rescue the ceiling gives way burying her up to the neck in rubble. Undaunted she puts a brave face on events, applying make-up, singing a maudlin song and convinced that at any moment someone will come to her rescue just like Winne in the Beckett play. Juliet Stevenson (always watchable) brings her experience of playing Winnie to bear on the script by Nancy Harris. Director of both play and film, Natalie Abrahami brings continuity and style to proceedings and draws some interesting parallels. I can’t help wondering what Beckett himself would have made of it; his estate has always been adamant that his dialogue and stage directions should be followed to the letter which is presumably why the piece takes a rather circuitous route. Anyway, by imposing a structured rationale on the scenario doesn’t that simply go against the writer’s absurdist take on humanity?
It’s been an interesting set of responses to some classic plays with the first and last pieces being the best and most interesting of the tranche. With one exception they all come from some time back and it’s not clear whether this is a project that the venue plans to pursue further. The major drawback is that, in this instance, you really need to know something of the original source material to appreciate the parallels drawn – just as well I did then.
For reviews of the other half of the collection – click here
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is The Present. This a dramatic poem though couched in the rhythms of natural speech. Moyo Akandé is isolated in lockdown remembering a loved one and looking forward to seeing them once more. Effectively written by Stef Smith it doesn’t say anything particularly new but says it well.
Young Vic Digital is available on the theatre’s website – click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
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