Along with Zoom based plays, audio drama had a huge part to play in keeping many theatres afloat during the pandemic. They provided some sort of financial income either through paywalls or donations and, perhaps more importantly, gave actors and creatives the chance to keep their craft alive. More than one venue opted to stream a series of short commissions which also gave new writing and new(ish) writers a platform for their product. One such was the north- east’s Alphabetti theatre who launched a series of nine micro plays under the general heading Listen Up. This was followed by Listen In – a further three pieces played over video of the temporarily abandoned building. Every now and again I like a little mini project, so as it is precisely the anniversary of this series’ launch, now seems a good moment to catch up.
First off the rank is There’s Nothing To Worry About, a debut commission for writer Julie Burrow. The title somewhat belies the content as it seems there is plenty for Rennie to be concerned with as she has a conversation with her daughter. The phone reception is poor and Rennie’s radio is acting up, delivering strange messages over the ether about darkness and some sort of impending doom. Daughter, Lisa, thinks it’s simply a matter of splashing out on getting a new set but she’s not quite so sure about how to tackle the claims that someone/thing is lurking about outside her mother’s house. Although it is only a ten minute piece, this is a clever twisting tale with just the right amount of paranoia set against the banality of much of the conversation expertly delivered by Natasha Haws and Karen Traynor. If you listen, don’t be tempted to fast forward through the introductory announcement as this is cleverly referenced in the play itself.
Another familial female relationship is at the centre of Contactless. This time it is a pair of sisters one called Esther who it transpires isn’t really there and the other who confusingly keeps changing her name but at least exists. Slightly confusing but listen long enough and there’s a logical reason for all this. The setting is a supermarket in which the unnamed (or rather variously named works), living a mundane existence punctuated by daydreams of the past and adventures as yet unfulfilled… and, for her, time is running out. As you may have gathered there’s a huge amount packed into this ten minute debut by Elijah Young and it is taken at a rattling pace by Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock and Hannah Walker as the protagonists. The phone rang at a key moment which means I needed a second listen for all the pieces to fall into place; fortunately, it is an interesting and short enough piece for this not to have been a problem.
Last in this first tranche is Transmisson by James Piercy which, once you have heard it, will have you thinking what a clever title has been used. It’s the longest of the first batch coming in at an almost leisurely twenty minutes and concerns a meeting between Vivien and a stranger who appears outside the house one rainswept night. Charlie claims to know the whereabouts of missing partner Jimmy but is at first coy about saying where he is or the reasons behind him being there. Cue a good deal of histrionics from the distraught Vivien (Samantha Bell going over the top once too often) who gradually also reveals an important facet of their past in what amounts to monologued asides to the audience. Is Charlie (Luke Maddison) all he seems or claims to be and what has befallen Jimmy? Essentially Transmission is a brief cat and mouse thriller but with a slightly different agenda. In truth I’m not sure that this added much to the mix but certainly fulfilled Piercy’s intention to “tell stories that don’t always focus on sexuality but existence”.
The trio made for a promising opening salvo, and I’ll be back for tranche 2 at a later date