This double bill features the winning two plays in Metamorphosis 08, a competition set up by the Churchill Theatre in Bromley to seek out new writing talent in south east London (see our interview with chair of the judging panel David Eldridge). Casting their net over the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham, a shortlist of six plays was developed with the help of dramaturgs and directors before being whittled down to this final two.
A specially constructed studio space has been erected on the actual stage of the Churchill for the performances, a theatre within a theatre, with seating arranged on either side of the space.
The first play, [in parenthesis], is by Ben Hales, a musician and a member of bands such as Aqualung. It has an attention grabbing central conceit: a pair of climbers, Frank and Gary, have fallen from a mountain and now hang suspended in mid-air by their climbing ropes, one with a gaping hole in his side where his body has been dashed against the rocks. The shock of the accident has passed and the two men attempt to distract themselves by telling bad jokes and weighing up the merits of various expletives, but, given their precarious situation, their conversation inevitably drifts into deeper territory: love, infidelity, regret, their outlook on life.
Once the novelty of the dangling actors has subsided this is actually a pretty static production. Attempts have been made to counter this. Hales includes two scenes where his characters tell stories about their loved ones and the actors are lowered to the floor to interact with them. While these scenes inject movement into the piece they also break the plays particular rhythm and end up detracting from rather than adding to proceedings. The addition of a third climber midway through causes a further shift in dynamics that the play doesnt quite recover from.
While Hales displays a good ear for the natural flow of conversation and an appealing feel for the blackly comic, Ali Taylor, whos Overspill was the second play of the evening, revels in the poetic. His previous play, Cotton Wool (staged recently at Theatre 503) displayed a real affinity with language, a lyrical quality, and this piece does too. But whereas the former play made great use of Scottish accents, Overspill concerns a trio of south London lads, Bromley boys, out for a night on the town. From the outset he captures the driving, pulsing rhythms of an evening out with the lads: the mimicry, the mockery, the strong sense of weekly routine.
Fast paced and pulsing, he paints a convincing picture of a night out in Bromley (though, as Eldridge pointed out, it could just as easily apply to any urban area, it is both specific Lewisham gets a dissing and universal). The boys rattle of local landmarks: Greggs and Rymans, the Slug and Lettuce, as they prowl the town. And then there is an explosion, slow motion and white light, and the play becomes a different thing, a tale of terrorism, paranoia and vengeance it plunges into the dark. If coherence suffers somewhat as a result, at least the atmosphere of the piece and the inventiveness of the language are maintained until the end.
Both plays are very well acted, with Adam Sopp as the unfortunate Frank in [in parenthesis] and Syrus Lowe as Baron, the more morally grounded of the three lads in Overspill, leaving the most lasting impression. And while neither play is in itself perfect, both have their strengths and speak of considerable talent. In the end it is Taylor’s thats seems the most complete, the most successfully developed, a treat of thing, witty, punchy and near musical in its use of words.