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 here’s my thoughts on the second tranche.
I began with Laundry, a play about two people who used to be an item getting back together during lockdown and coming to realise what they have lost as their isolation has started to become a way of life. Sam’s washing machine isn’t working and Rob invites her to use his – or what used to be theirs. Then as they wait they realise they might as well have a cuppa and share some memories. This is a gentle little piece from writer Assad Zaman, played well by Craig Fairburn and Hannah Walker. It contains few surprises but makes good use of subtext and the extended metaphor of doing one’s laundry to make its point. What is most forcibly striking, a year after it was first broadcast is the couple’s discussion of the lockdown rules and their contemplation of whether they are breaking them. Given recent events this is highly ironic and reasserts the topicality of the narrative.
There’s another extended theatrical metaphor in the next play which approaches a difficult topic from a new angle. Fostering is often covered from the point of view of the parent or child at the centre of the arrangement but not quite so much from a birth child who may find themselves caught up in the decision. Beth Nolan’s Jigsaw places Liam’s position in the spotlight as he and his mother welcome Jayden temporarily into their home. Liam only knows about fostering from what he’s seen on Tracey Beaker but soon finds himself bonding with the young boy over the titular puzzles. Gradually as they fit the pieces together they also help one another to form complete pictures of their lives. Fostering though is only ever a temporary arrangement and so, inevitably, just like the jigsaws they enjoy they have to be broken apart and tidied away. Bob Nicholson and Arabella Arnott lend credibility to their characters and give pause for thought about such a poignant situation.
Hearing Voices by Richard Boggie is probably the most fun of the six plays so far. Matt has vision impairment and uses a screen reader to help him communicate. However, the emphasis is on the Intelligence aspect of Artificial Intelligence as it seems to have ideas of its own and is not afraid to communicate them to him. In particular it takes his operator to task and calls him out for his casual sexism and double standards; Matt, like many of us, presents a different aspect of his persona when he is interacting with particular people which his machine finds difficult to reconcile. This is a nicely developed piece which uses humour to make several serious points about male behaviour and doesn’t sentimentalise the protagonist because he has a disability. Played with verve by Adam Donaldson and “ATV1”, the direction (Karen Traynor) is brisk and makes excellent use of audio capabilities in Matt Jamie’s sound design.
I’ll be back with round three before too long