I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a completist, not liking to bail out on stuff before it finishes or it has been thoroughly investigated – witness the 1,000 online shows reviewed between April 2020 and December 2021 (click here). Even at that somewhat alarming rate there’s still a sense that plenty might have slipped through the net but one of the fortunate things about online theatre is that it quite often remains available for a goodly period of time, or resurfaces. Such was the case with a pair of pieces from two companies which I’d visited several times and followed with interest. The short plays also turned out to be further connected by their rather sanguineous nature.
Alphabetti Theatre’s offering is a monologue piece entitled Meat Factory. Written by David Raynor it’s a revamp of a live pre-pandemic performance piece which has an uncanny way of hitting a current vibe. This sharp piece of satire borrows its key idea from Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal though, in this instance, neither the proposal nor the proposer could be accused of modesty. Shirley Dobson (OBE – she insists on that) is a driven entrepreneur who has left behind the world of payday loans to involve herself with her partner’s beginning to fail company Quick ‘N’ Easy Meat Based Products. She has some radical ideas about how to turn their fortunes round and solve some of the issues of the poverty gap at the same time. Addressing us directly as though we were government representatives/potential investors, Dobson takes us through her plans including a gory looking demonstration of her ideas. Given some of the recent pronouncements from ministers about how to cope with the cost of living crisis perhaps they have engaged her as a consultant. Dobson is played with relish by Rosie Stancliffe with more than a touch of Katie Hopkins about her. The whole thing comes across as a twisted pitch from a demented edition of Dragon’s Den – all I can say is “I’m out!”
Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show is a record of a short piece taken out on tour by theatrical innovators Imitating The Dog in between lockdowns. It too has contemporary resonances as corruption in local politics is put under the spotlight. The Mayor (clearly Boris Johnson) and his cronies, a headmaster and a chief constable plan to build The Devil’s Playground, a casino on the town’s outskirts, to nobody’s benefit but their own and masterminded by the mysterious Mr Gorgon. It’s not long, of course, before murder, betrayal and mayhem follow. There’s a lot to pack in to this just over half an hour show and if the script seems rather rambling and inconsequential the piece makes up for this by being brash, technically clever and full of knowing cultural references.
Imagine a mash up of schlock horror, Punch and Judy, punk (both the steam and regular varieties), Bertolt Brecht and Tarantino and you’ll be someway to grasping the aesthetic. And if nothing else you can marvel at the way the three performers (Matt Prendergast, Laura Atherton and Keicha Greenidge) flip between roles, manipulate dolls and model cars and perform a high energy song with the company’s customary mix of live and live filmed performance all to a pulsing soundtrack. I’d be lying if said I preferred this to some of the other ITD shows I’ve seen online as it doesn’t really seem fully thought through and more like a work in progress than the finished article. But if you have never seen one of their shows before this would serve as a good introductory module and give you a sense of what they are all about. If nothing else it might give you pause for thought before putting your cross on the ballot paper for the local elections today!