I came to Alphabetti Theatre’s online content via their family based show Rocket Girl which I reviewed a week ago (click here). It was only when I looked at their website while doing a bit of research that I realised quite what a little treasure trove of material they had built up and made available. There is, for instance, a nine part audio drama series Listen Up plus a number of other shows on video such as the intriguingly titled Bacon Knees & Sausage Fingers. However, I thought I would opt for their most recent offering which played live at the Newcastle venue in July and was subsequently put online for continued access.
Called simply Pause, this is a solo show about the power and resonance of films and how these pieces of entertainment influence us at a fundamental level. This is especially true in the case of Wallace who has grown up living above her father’s video rental shop Stellar Video in Clackmananshire and who measures out her life in relation to the films she watches individually and which they watch as a pair -an especial favourite is Whiskey Galore. As her dad’s health declines, assisted by his growing affection for actual as opposed to filmic alcohol, she comes to run the shop on a solo basis but their old fashioned attitude to stock and promotion means that as the 1980s become the 1990s there is no place for them in the modern world. To borrow a phrase from a film franchise of the era, Wallace “goes over to the dark side” and takes on a job at new kid on the scene Blockbusters, telling herself she will infiltrate the enemy from the inside and steal their secrets in a daring act of espionage. As may be gathered, Wallace often links her life and activities to that of the movies and throughout this wittily constructed piece by Laura Lindow there are many moments of “spot the reference” which can be enjoyed. There’s even a nice Hollywood style twist at the end of the play (no spoilers) and the closing credits are carried out in an instantly recognisable style. I was particularly intrigued by some of the QI type cinematic trivia which peppers the show – I learned a lot about the making of Jaws and I never realised that The Sound Of Music was so rife with sexual tension.
The other strand which holds the play together and marks the passing of time are the references to Scottish and international events (the independence referendum, Blair’s election victory, the death of Princess Diana, etc.); these ground things in reality contrasting neatly with the pat Hollywood solutions so often offered by the film industry itself. Importantly what Pause shows is the impact these events have on individuals and the small local community of which Stellar Video was once a lynchpin.
Wallace is played in a highly winning fashion by Paula Penman who starts out unsure of herself and frets about how to best put her story over to us. But her experiences help the character to grow in confidence and Penman’s carefully calibrated performance means that we root for her to succeed. There are also some pleasing video-in-video moments where she appears as other characters in the narrative. Direction by Mark Calvert is brisk and assured; particularly pleasing is Jeremy Bradfield’s homage laden soundscape. All together it’s a heart warming and well executed production which gets at some deeper truths through the rise and fall of a popular entertainment medium.
It’s strange to reflect how the rise of video recorders/players was a major leap forward in home entertainment less than fifty years ago and that we had to go out to a shop to carefully choose what film we might want to watch. Somehow though, that was infinitely more fulfilling than staying in and just pressing a couple of buttons to get us straight to a myriad of choices on Netflix. As someone who has lived through all of these changes and had a parent who worked in cinema I too can measure out much of my life by the films I’ve seen although I can’t say I’m any fan of the endless sequels and franchise product which Hollywood currently churns out. These days I’d rather be going out to a theatre – though in the last 18 months I haven’t even had to worry about that!