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Brighton Year-Round 2023

Fergus O’Donnell, Losing the Plot, Rebecca Frew Safe, Bernadette Cremin Painless

Lantern Theatre

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Feminist Theatre, Fringe Theatre, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Lantern Theatre, Brighton


Low Down

In just three months work, with term-breaks, this course run and directed by Mark Burgess tonight has produced something vital. It needs celebrating and its best work a swift life in full-scale productions.

Rebecca Frew’s Safe and Bernadette Cremin’s Painless, was followed after the interval by two monologues and  Fergus O’Donnell’s Losing the Plot. The Lantern Theatre was gratifyingly packed.

Directed by Mark Burgess. Technical, Lighting & Sound Operator Erin Burbridge.

Produced by Danie Finlay and Janette Eddisford

Till August 20th


Introduction to Playwriting: ACT, Lantern Theatre

You can feel the tingle of discovery. Three first-time plays from three playwrights on the ACT playwriting course at the Lantern Theatre, with six actors all directed by Course Tutor Mark Burgess.

Rebecca Frew’s Safe and Bernadette Cremin’s Painless, was followed after the interval by two monologues and  Fergus O’Donnell’s Losing the Plot. The Lantern Theatre was gratifyingly packed.

Actors Emma Walsh, Michael Bucke, Liz Stapleton, Charlie Hesketh, Sharon Drain Catie Ridewood – the last two literally hotfoot from One Fell Swoop’s matinee Shakespeare a mile away – gave often more than rehearsed readings.


Safe by Rebecca Frew

“One woman. One man. One room. Are either of them safe?” Rebecca Frew’s Safe explores state of denial and disbelief, as Catie Ridewood wakes on a pallet to Charlie Hesketh’s ominous “I didn’t want to do this” to the befuddled young woman who thinks she’s been spared date-rape or drunken sex, comes to, “Kept my clothes on this time. That’s a change.”

The strange young man though can’t oblige her with her phone, handbag or anything else, and insists he knows her husband’s dead, she lives in a cottage her dead parents left her. And she’s not Christine, not an artist, she works in a florist’s. Caspar, we find is having none of it. She’ll be taking over from him, he’s getting no good, arthritic. He thinks it must be 2005. He paints for them, they sell his pictures. Now she’ll do that. For life, as it were.

It transpires Caspar – a name he gave himself – has been incarcerated in this cellar for years. He’ll be gone soon and seems fatalistic. “Mum” and “Dad” feed him three times a day, he tried escaping once, he gives details.

We don’t resolve some plot issues but this matters less. Caspar has been told things about the young woman, so must be in more contact than he relates. We never discover whether Cathy is Christine, or how she was targeted and selected on the bizarre premise she could paint and has no close relations who’ll come looking. The Huit Clos premise is what we take. The variable is Casper. Her at least Frew is clear it isn’t some fantasy.

Redwood is wholly convincing, bouncing up from mildly irritated to frightened through outrage to defiant and back to conniving bargaining, cajoling. Hesketh and Frew do a fine job of keeping Caspar’s register on a slightly infantile level: only hinted at, with a less developed vocabulary, and a child’s shrewd way of bargaining. Both actors perhaps ratchet up too fast to shouting, but it’s a thriller.

A very accomplished and promising first script. Frew knows what to leave out, how to pace, and how to end. In an ideal world she could probably look forward to script-writing. It’d be interesting to see if Frew enjoys other registers as a theatre writer. It’d be worthwhile waiting for her next.


Painless  by Bernadette Cremin

In Bernadette Cremin’s Painless Patsy Catie Ridewood) and Owen (Charlie Hesketh) are hosting a party for fellow thirty-something Amanda (Emma Walsh) and Jackson Michael Bucke). They want them to become godparents: Patsy’s pregnant, nearly four months.  At this point Hesketh has even less to do than Walsh, and the burden is on Hesekth’s laddish but protective Owen and above all Ridewood’s exuberant Patsy.

Cremin starts exuberant and rude with outré comments by Owen over Patsy’s enhanced breasts and horniness, then suddenly twists and then we’re in a different technocratic world of outcomes, nightmares and impossible choices. Patsy fits, suffering a seizure and from the warm bath of friends and banter; we’re in a wholly different world: the clinical terminology of the hospital.

Dr Harvey (Bucke again) talks efficiently, charmlessly in acronyms like CT MRI and various outcomes of a bleed. Harvey tries lay-person terminology. You see the wheels turn in Bucke’s patrician performance: “The scans you had last night on admission, Can you remember lying in a noisy washing machine ‘thing’ at all?” Bucke – excellent in this – and Ridewood circle each other with Hesketh chipping away on the doctor’s side.

The next scene shows Hesketh’s Owen hopelessly drifting from whatever empathy, reasonable or not, that Patsy has reached for. Hesketh builds Owen as a performance in direct proportion to his moral authority, and empathy fall away.

Cremin’s own experience is brought in very well; the conflict arising, handled rapidly and in twists that make it genuinely a roller-coaster.

It’s never padded either, the dialogue has a purpose, there’s no mere ‘conversation’ in Stephen Jeffrey’s distinction between the two. Each line leads to the next point.

The final devastating, but painfully lyrical scene, is simply. A monologue, where Aarvo Part’s Spiegel im Spiegel plays out. Cremin’s acclaimed as a poet. She has one might almost say an unfair advantage. She’s also used life-experiences but you could never imagine what drama she wreaks out of this stark lyricism:

“The sky is so big and black at … this time of year my love, your granddaddy Pat used to take me up there at night with the dogs when I was a girl, he knew the names of all the stars, how I loved to listen to him speak all those long pretty words I never understood yes, it’s perfect my love, so quiet…”

Ridewood’s simply riveting here. This is a performance of a piece that cries out for it. No wonder those who worked on it were particularly inspired. Cremin’s placement of words, her unerring, shivering choice, is that of an experienced poet. But one who’s worked in performance and pares to the bone.

This is already a completely finished script; with characters sharply drawn, the central one exuding both conflict and bleak lyricism that makes Patsy unforgettable. It needs simply to be produced, in theatre or indeed effectively on the radio.



At this point there was a welcome interval. After it, two brief attractive monologues were performed, inspired by photographs. The first by Fergus O’Donnell with Bucke a thing of wonder, kites and aspiration the second by Rebecca Frew, concerns a young woman’s escape, performed by Ridewood. They were really brief, promising exercises written at the start of the programme in April.


Losing the Plot by Fergus O’Donnell

Liz (Emma Walsh) is having a hard time of it in Fergus O’Donnell’s Losing the Plot. Val (Liz Stapleton) is getting slovenly round the allotment plot she has. Despite a sympathetic neighbour Andrew (Bucke again) making self-lacerating ironies about him being called a “fat poof” (one remembers the days when people had to deflect homophobia like that) by Val, he’s loyal and does much to help keep the allotment as trim as can be.

Bucke by the way is excellent catching the outré Andrew with his passages and blockages and other innuendos. It’s not a subtly written part but some of O’Donnell’s writing here helps Bucke make a convincing half-round character.

Two things undermine that. Val’s suffering cognitive decline due to an onset of Alzheimer’s. With singular ill timing her illness coincides with a review of the allotment she manages which requires the upkeep of certain standards. Andrew and Liz want to resist for Val’s sake. Mrs Li (Sharon Drain) is a resolutely unsympathetic character, giving notice of a review of Val’s allotment. Drain, consummate as ever, make a fine case from frosty to someone who has to rescue Val and see her in a new light.

Eventually there’s some neat symbolism around a plum tree Val’s pride becomes a prime candidate for Chinese plum wine, to a receipe Mr Li  knows.

Stapleton’s excellent at tracing Val’s descent from forgetfulness (summer) bewilderment (autumn) denial and fury (winter) and calm acceptance (spring). It’s an attractive conceit and the feel of this work, which is inherently undramatic, but more storytelling, is of a sitcom around allotments. Walsh has to be in the same scene, almost the same moment, both daughter Liz and Scottish allotment holder Mary, and these two aren’t differentiated: the actor could do with a piece of clothing. Walsh latterly adopts a Scottish accent. Which helps.

There’s some lovely lyrical touches with butterflies, plum trees and a warm accepting close. O’Donnell’s designed his work with attractive symbolism and deft themes. He needs to build more inherently dramatic characters though, and locate conflict, the heart of drama. And the work is too long for its material.

But as his short monologue underscores, O’Donnell has a lyrical voice of his own, a certain world of stillness, the natural world, and an understated yearning for transcendence. He merely needs to imagine fiercely, and decide which medium suits his limpid vision: some pieces might come as fiction, and others perhaps as drama.