I’ve finally managed to complete my deep dive into Live Theatre’s 10 Minutes To… Call Home series which was first released ages ago, but I had somehow contrived to miss. The nine short plays consist of new writing in a variety of styles and formats. All are simply staged with lighting and sound doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of creating time and place. So, here’s the final three.
On a day when railway lines were buckling in the heat and trains were being cancelled there was a nice sense of irony to watching Off Peak written by Ellen McNally. As a play it’s narratively a fairly slight piece though to be fair it is McNally’s first produced play. It scores more forcibly as an intergenerational character study of a pair of strangers who meet on a train and fall into conversation. Older Liz (Colleen Prendergast) and younger Rachel (Megan Mackie Smith) are both on their way home and despite an initial sense of antagonism quickly form a temporary bond especially when one reveals the loss of a close relative. It turns out they are not so different after all so no big surprises there. Joining them onstage is Anabelle Rich as the slightly fraught train conductor who provides the outrageously priced bag of Quavers which helps to bridge the gap between the other two. As a role it is somewhat underwritten – more plot device than character – but the actor handles the lines with aplomb and helps to set the scene. Generally, this is well evoked by some simple but effective use of lighting and sound (Drummond Orr and Dave Flynn respectively). It’s an entertaining enough short play but not one that will particularly stay in the memory.
Another debut piece follows – Star Fish written by Niall McCarthy. Dan and Laura meet up after the former has had a row with his father. It’s unclear whether this is a platonic relationship or whether one or the other (or indeed both) are edging towards something more involved – in astrological terms are their own stars ever going to fully align? This is only the first of many things which are left frustratingly unresolved/unexplained in this short piece; we never discover what the family row is about nor why Dan contemplates moving out or even where to. The concentration on his problems also leaves the character of Laura struggling for space. It’s perhaps not the point of the piece which becomes disconcertingly philosophical to the point where the dialogue lacks the ring of reality. The pair discuss astronomy and astrology, personalities, connectivity and metaphysics all based round the central metaphor of the zodiacal sign of Pisces – the connected fish. Mahsa Hammat Bahary and Aiden Nord play the piece with conviction, but the writing leaves them with underdeveloped characters to put across and in the end the play has a similar level of vagueness about it as the newspaper horoscopes of which Dan complains.
The final piece in the series (though actually the opener because inadvertently I’ve been watching the plays in completely reverse order) is Invisible Boundaries by Sarah Tarbit. Kelly and Ryan met up on their housing estate when they were both eight and spent much of the succeeding time hanging out together. This continues into their teenage years when sex and drugs invade their lives and inevitably they go their separate ways. Kelly reflects that Ryan remains in her life even though not physically present; he’s much like a phantom limb with an itch she can’t quite scratch. Jackie Edwards brings a real depth of character to bear on a piece which examines growing up and growing apart. There’s also a resonant performance from Jake Jarratt as Ryan Hope, always trying to live up to his own surname but never quite succeeding. Director Becky Morris uses a divided stage with the pair never quite on the same side to visually make the point and the consistently flinty dialogue is artfully constructed to seem natural on the ear. It’s a strong way to finish – or indeed to begin depending on how you choose to order the sequence.
If you like investigating new writers and writing then you could do much worse than start with Live theatre’s series (add in their festive shorts 5 Plays Of Christmas ad there’s a total of 14 pieces to choose from) most of which will reward your time and remind us of what many writers, actors and companies had to do to get through the pandemic.
Live Theatre’s seasonal collection 5 Plays Of Christmas is reviewed here