In mid -August I started to watch the National Theatre of Scotland’s mammoth project Scenes For Survival with the two short series pieces Alone and Out Of The Woods. Since then, I have been working my way through the catalogue with a new piece each day as a bonus extra. Now exactly five weeks later there are only a handful of playlets left so I thought it would be good to bring these all together in a final sweep to bring my own mini project to a conclusion.
First up was Credo in which poet and playwright Liz Lochhead sets out her stall for what stage productions should be. The performance is based on a 2016 poem and is brought to life in a reading by the author accompanied by Andy Clark on stage giving life to the words through some mime work. I couldn’t help reflecting that, as the main thrust of the argument is plays are showing not telling activities, it was more than a little ironic that we were being told what a good play was rather than simply being shown it. Lochhead’s poetry is as interesting as it always is, but it is still basically that – a poem.
The Maid’s Room is a good old fashioned ghost story from the pen of Lynda Radley. A beleaguered guest house host starts to question his own sanity in the face of mysterious happenings in and around his home only some of which can be put down to the behaviour of the international visitors he is looking after. Gerry Mulgrew’s quietly delivered intimate narration builds to a suitable climax, but the ending can be seen coming a mile off. This would probably have been more effective had I watched at night with the lights out but it’s good that the series has consistently embraced a whole range of genres.
For many of us Zoom and video conferencing apps provided a lifeline during the pandemic. But what if you could call up your future self to see how things are turning out? Nicola McCartney’s witty short Future Perfect [Tense] shows us how that might be and how all those random small decisions (whether to get a sofa bed) and those that are more important (should a relationship be proceeded with or dropped) made in the present can have big repercussions going forward. Neshla Caplan talks to herself, in the best possible way, in an engagingly metaphysical piece which has a nice twist at the end
A young woman (Kristi McDonald) is in hospital not because of Covid but because she has swallowed a quantity of paracetamol. Using the ward toilet as a confessional she reflects on how her lot compares to that of some of the other patients. She particularly considers the role of one of the unsung heroes of hospital life, a cleaner (The Domestic) who inspires her to help others and generally puts life into some sort of perspective. This powerfully understated piece is written by Uma Nada-Rajah who is a practising staff nurse which is why it positively encompasses a sense of authenticity.
The final piece returns to the first principles of the series being a response to Covid and filmed in the performer’s place of Isolation which is its appropriate title. Interspersed with fever dream memories, a woman who is self-isolating longs for the day she can stop feeling so wretched and get her son back; he has had to go and stay with his father. Jenni Fagan’s script is a reminder of the horrendous times many have lived through and is performed excellently by Kate Dickie who certainly looks and sounds unwell – even if she is actually using her acting skills. There’s a touching ending which brings my time with this series to a suitable close.
It’s taken a long while to work through all these playlets, but the experience has mostly been rewarding. If you’re looking to head for the highlights I’d recommend (in no particular order) Out Of The Woods, Naeb’dy, Larchview, Fatbaws, Call To Adventure, Sore Afraid, Three Billion Swipes and Wednesday. These should provide a good overview of the ambitious nature of this scheme and provide a rewarding set of well written excellently performed shorts. There are, in actual fact, a further 9 pieces on the website but as these are all extracts from longer plays, and I avoid reviewing incomplete works, these are going to go by the board -sorry if anyone has been waiting with bated breath for my pronouncements. And so now it’s onto the next mini project – whatever that may be.
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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