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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

10 Minutes  to . . . Call Home
Live Theatre   March 2021

Newcastle's Live Theatre has put together a collection of nine short (10-20 minute) plays for online viewing. Despite the umbrella title there is no common theme, and with structures ranging from monologues through multi-character multi-scene stories and tones from comic to tragic and all stops in between, there are likely to be at least a few to satisfy all tastes.

Olu Alakija's monologue 'Watching And Waiting' catches a young woman given away at birth and brought up unhappily in the care system as she prepares to confront her birth mother. The playwright and actress Paislie Reid capture all the woman's anger, but also other emotions pain, sadness, uncertainty that the character herself might not realise she is feeling.

Mandi Chivosa's 'Amai Vango My Mother' has a similar structure, as the woman played by Shvorne Marks tells of growing up in Africa with an evil stepmother her memories conflate with Cinderella's. Only as she is leaving home does she get a sudden flash of empathy for the woman who had to enter someone else's house as a second-choice replacement.

Anger is also the generating force behind gobscure's 'yu can't start revolutions sitting on yr arse' as homeless women played by Lindsay Nicholson and Faye Alvi declare (in, respectively, voice and sign language) their contempt for just about everyone in the world except themselves for allowing homelessness to exist. The anger is strong, but the lack of focus weakens it.

Sarah Tarbit's 'Invisible Boundaries' addresses a similar situation with more empathy and warmth as a couple of feral street kids find some comfort and emotional anchor together until, almost inevitably, they fail each other. Actors Jake Jarratt and Jackie Edwards make the story of small lives with small failures, successes and compromises believable and touching.

Also about small lives and small recompenses is Benjamin Storey's 'Gutter Weeds' in which the new owner of an old house (Samantha Neale) finds the previous owner, Donald McBride's lonely widower, hanging around, tending the garden and doing odd jobs just because he can't bear to leave his memories. She has to find a way to wean him away before he gets too creepy.

And it would be harder to find a smaller story than Niall McCarthy's 'Star Fish' in which a teenage couple sit outside looking at the stars and find their thoughts moving from the Zodiac to determination to free will to responsibility to growing up.

As written they may be a little too deep as thinkers and eloquent as speakers to be quite believable, but actors Mahsa Hammat Bahary and Alden Nord make us care enough for them to hope they're real and wish them well.

Two plays with strong potential don't quite achieve success, and for opposite reasons, one trying to do too much in its short running time and the other settling for too little. In Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock's 'Sheltered' an adult daughter comes out as a lesbian to her mother who, to her surprise if not ours, handles the news very well.

But the playwright sets this event in a Blitz-like bomb shelter in some future war, and further muddies things by trying to invest the game Monopoly with symbolic significance it can't support, and presenting it all as a radio play, complete with microphones, scripts and a sound effects man.

In contrast, Ellen McNally's 'Off Peak' tells a simple and familiar story but finds too little in it. An older and younger woman meet on a train and with the intimacy of anonymity tell their stories to each other. But there isn't much that's new or dramatically interesting to either life, and the anecdote has no resonance.

Finally, a totally light-hearted tone is achieved by John Hickman's 'Blyth Spirit,' which takes off from Noel Coward to imagine a Northumberland bloke hoping to conjure up the spirit of his mother and being saddled with a dead ex-girlfriend instead.

All the plays are well-recorded in on-stage performances.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  10 Minutes To Call Home 2021