Many theatre venues have now returned fully to live shows only but The Space in London’s Docklands, currently celebrating its 25th birthday, continues its policy of streaming many of its productions both live and on demand. Toothache falls into the latter category having played at the venue in early September but remaining online until the end of the month. It seems to me that this is a very valuable way of keeping a production alive and available to those who for economic, health or geographical reasons cannot attend the often limited run of live performances. There’s many another theatre which would do well to follow The Space’s example as this policy provides an essential platform for relatively new writers/performers/companies to get their work seen and appreciated.
Such is the case with Toothache from writer Emily Patterson Hindle who also performs with Harris Allen. The two actors take on an array of characters but are principally twins Roo (though she prefers Kangaroo) and Josh who, in the way that close siblings have, fight and argue but also love and care for each other. The play traces their lives from childhood through to them becoming young adults. The first scenes put me in mind of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, famous for having adult actors play the children. I wasn’t totally clear how old they were supposed to be at the start (7?) and, if I could start with a negative point, I didn’t really feel that the latter manifestations were clearly enough differentiated in terms of the apparent age profile. Otherwise, the pair do a thoroughly convincing job of bringing these sparky siblings to life and the tender relationship between the couple is also very well rendered.
The children’s parents, father a rather taciturn amateur DJ (interesting combination) and mother a Janis Joplin wannabe seem largely content to let the offspring sort life out for themselves and so it is to each other that they turn for support. There’s plenty of stuff about life in school, burgeoning sexuality, bullying and a number of other challenges faced by adolescents today and more than once it seems like one or the other is about to go under. That they are buoyed aloft by their twin keeps the message of hope and positivity intact and the audience is left feeling that their lives will be at least somewhat fulfilled if only by the close relationship which sustains them.
Director Monty Leigh keeps the production simple and interestingly asks the audience to use their imaginations in the same way that the children do as they play at pirates walking the plank at the start. This appropriate beginning asks for us to free our minds from the conventions of theatre which deploys realistic scenery and intricate costuming for something rather freer in form – it’s telling just how many locations can be conjured up with a few words and a couple of wooden benches. If the filming is a little rough round the edges this too lends the piece an atmosphere of something conjured up in the moment, so this didn’t detract. Perhaps my hearing is going but I found I needed to wear earphones to pick up some of the nuances of the dialogue particularly when there were some quieter introspective moments following a scene of bustle and shouting. The piece is presented through a company called Sharp Scratches which encourages and champions new writers who tackle relevant contemporary topics. This is the first I have seen of their work and look forward to seeing more as they develop.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is Wednesday. There’s a lovely trajectory to this from a wrong footing opening, through domestic strife to reconciliation and a surprise ending – and all in ten minutes. Douglas Henshall and Morven Christie bring class to a beautifully economical script from Tena Štivičić and certainly left me wishing for more
Toothache is available via The Space’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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