Fringe Online 2021
An ever-expanding series on Soundcloud, all available to listen indefinitely. Directed by Toby Clark. Sound Design Engineering Original Music Rolly Botha. Available free for the foreseeable future on Soundcloud. Visit the Southwark site.
Southwark Playhouse reach out in totally unexpected ways. So how about podcast Plays for Today on podcast theatre? It sounds almost Radio 4 – though flickers with the experimental quirks of that classic genre. Collaborating with Southwark Charity and Goldsmith’s Company Charity, all plays are directed by Toby Clark. With sound design engineering and original Music by Rolly Botha. The plays are presented in chronological order, though are presented in reverse – with the most recent first.
Sophie Ellerby Puffins
Performed by Mina Temple, Jan Woods and John McRae this is a quiet scattering of ashes as Gwyneth comes to terms with having never loved her husband Graham and determined to set out with Rose, her best friend, despite Rose’s husband Bob in fluttery attendance, though not till near the end when something’s almost been decided. Rose is Bob’s second wife but not his first love. We’re suffused with quiet erotic frustration.
There’s a wryly touching moment when a couple making love on the beach are spotted through the binoculars, spinning a life of regrets which rather thrills Rose. ‘I’ll never make love on a beach…. A man is never that attentive unless he’s in love.’
It’s quietly attentive, Temple and Woods provide a glimmer of light on a bleak sea-shore. It’s gentle, raptly affirmative, perfectly delivered. Graham however was never her friend’s love. There’s an unexpected declaration, and an offer.
A subtle and clever play that rewards attention and a simmering subtext.
Stewart Melton Time Lapse
Three sisters Lucy, Ange and Minnie played by Karla Ptacek, Roz Borley, Maureen Rose are commemorating sister Sophie, on her birthday. Small jump-cuts flash us back to sitting for Sophie, and Kate. Ange with her cystic fibrosis is in attendance. And needs help.
Lucy’s discovered the secret of phenomena longevity through various microbes and minutes before Ange is due to die administers a remarkable drug, and then they all take it. This reminds us of John Wyndham’s last sci-fi masterpiece, Trouble With Lichen.
Jumping forward into the future where many oppose Minnie’s compulsory ‘conversion’ to longevity, Lucy’s switched sides, but her new side doesn’t know she’s nigh immortal.
The jump-cuts turn frenetic jumping over four centuries, and asks just when will the spirit tire of existence? Even when eventually so many are quitting the earth in a rather different way. A compellingly eerie take on immortality, futurity and the arrogance of eternity.
Justina Kehinde Red Tide
Two women, one wealthy, Frieda Das former QC, and the now impoverished Verity, Lady Beaumont meet up in Kenya, their original home. Frieda’s got dual nationality. Verity’s exhausted from her budget flight, anxious over her property and what Frieda’s done with virtually the only asset she has, back-rent. Verity’s estranged sister Catherine Wallis however, has done something drastic. Frieda however announces a rescue plan. But. Enter Cat. ‘It’s funny how meetings can look like an ambush.’
A shrewd take on sisterhood, estrangement, the transfer of capital and power, this three-hander is a compellingly authoritative play with layered betrayals. For instance the land’s seized by settler imperialists, and to be developed by Das Enterprises. Now however Cat has not only ecological but ethical and even ethnic objections. Verity, forced into marriage because she fell pregnant, is now an impoverished WASPI widow seeking security.
Sympathies shift and Frieda’s original commanding presence shifts to the relationship between sisters. Performed by Sasha Winslow, Teresa Malski, and the excellent Meena Agrawai there’s a heart-warming conclusion with an unexpected offer.
Abraham Adeyemi Melancholy
This 12-minute play, the shortest of the series, is a poignant game of cards with four people revealing themselves as they conceal their cards. It’s sort of Quartet without the singing. Adeyemi’s fine ear for dialogue and psychology, little upsets and how minute adjustments set off explosions makes this a subtly compelling listen where little ostensibly happens. But there’s a new marriage in the offing, Freddie Adamson, Hilary Hodsman Jeanette Lineham and Keith Biley.
Wendy Buckley and John McRae They Also Serve
This 17-minute multi-faceted play sounds bigger than it is. A century of brief vignettes in fact. The cast is necessarily quite large too: writers Wendy Buckley and John McRae are augmented by Eileen Sheppard, Gerry Daniels, and Keith Biley.
The final line of Milton’s sonnet on his frustrating blindness can rarely have sounded so apposite. A bittersweet play about St Dunstan’s, the charity for those blinded whilst serving their country, moves in tableaux across small great stories. And it’s not just men, but in 1942 factory-worker Bronwen sole survivor of a factory explosion, loses a hand as well as her sight.
The pull is Bronwen’s initiation into St Dunstan’s, a glancing story of its origins and suddenly it’s 2015. With singing. It takes a while to focus on exactly what’s happening, but leaves us with sharp tender shocks. Dedicated to a founding member of the Elder Company of Southwark Playhouse, Leslie Gay who died in 2020.
Georgia Green How to Kill Your Mother
Superbly acted by Jackie Grudzinskas and Rosie Emily Dawson, this two-hander’s quietly devastating. Leyla is orating her mother Miriam’s funeral at Golder’s Green crematorium. So far so conventional, people coming from as far apart in a day from Israel and Finchley.
So it’s only when sixty-three-year-old Miriam pops up – ‘Jews don’t do the afterlife’ protests Leyla – their curious intimacy unravels. Not Leyla’s abortive date with a new girl, or boy, but how they’ve been planning Miriam’s death and what kind of pillow they’ll use. Because Miriam’s dying and wants to choose a comfortable exit.
Darkly tender and very funny, this 29-minute piece (the longest so far) is freighted with zonings in and out as Leyla’s monologues weave in and out of her own life, including cheerfully disclosing her sex-life to her sex-obsessed mother, living vicariously as she asks for death.
There’s almost stand-up routines as recordings of Miriam giving pointers to how to get over her. ‘Distance is nothing to do with love… and someone to pour milk over the cereal for.’ Or a dark interlude where they discuss whether it’d be authentic if Miriam threw herself down the stairs or would they guess? An unflinchingly funny look at dying, moving on and how to ask a dying parent how to empty a hoover. But can Leyla let Miriam’s ghost go? The end is something far more – a profound, superbly witty and devastating play about grieving, love in the letting go.
A truly absorbing series. And free to stream on Soundcloud.