Seven Plays from Methuen Drama

Reporter: Philip Fisher

Dateline: 24th December, 2015

If you can't always get to the theatre, or are unable to afford tickets on a regular basis, one alternative is to keep abreast of the latest openings by reading play scripts.

Methuen Drama has published a stream of new scripts in the last few months covering work up and down the country. This article provides a brief introduction to seven new plays.

McQueen: or Lee and Beauty by James Phillips

Fashion designer Alexander McQueen, known as Lee to his intimates, is described on the cover of the script as an "Artist. Genius. Icon. Legend" and then lower down "the fashion visionary who breaks the rules".

Playwright James Phillips was clearly a disciple and has written a work in which he attempts to capture the essence of a larger-than-life character.

He does so through the medium of Dahlia, an American fan with a hunger to learn more about the designer, and more distantly Isabella Blow, herself an iconic figure.

This relatively short play deals in fantasy, which is intended to illuminate truth. However, the writing is not always of a consistently high quality and the likelihood is that this play will prove primarily of interest to those with a passion for fashion.

The Funfair by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens can be an enigmatic writer as he deliberately produces work in a number of different styles. The Funfair, which was first produced at Home in Manchester, comes into the category of his more accessible pieces.

In part, that might be because it is based on Kasimir and Karoline by Odon von Horvath.

In essence, it is a story about disaffected youth today with critical political undertones.

The central figure is Caroline, who, though she works as an administrative assistant is a relatively affluent young lady, certainly when compared with those with whom she keeps company.

During the course of another short play, she breaks up with her boyfriend Cash, ostensibly because he has lost his job.

At The Funfair of the title, she then has a metaphorical rollercoaster ride sampling some of life's extremes including shy, innocent John Chase, a couple of rich, middle-aged men who should know better and the violent Frankie Marr.

While this might seem a simple portrait of a young woman at a crossroads, this subtle play make some oblique but pointed observations about the materialistic world in which we live.

The Flannelettes by Richard Cameron

Richard Cameron has written a moving play about ordinary people in extreme circumstances.

It is set in a refuge for battered women located in a Yorkshire mining village. This is run by phlegmatic Brenda, who seems capable of dealing with any crisis.

However, the arrival of her niece Delie, 22 but with a mental age of 12, presents new challenges. The younger woman might be a perfect lead singer for the eponymous 60s revival band but is far from capable of looking after herself when ignoble men are on the prowl.

Cameron has peopled the play with a series of memorable characters including two victims Jean and Roma plus a policeman out of his depth in more ways than one and a pawnbroker with a heart of gold.

The Flannelettes is a poignant but at times heart-warming drama that must work wonderfully on stage when accompanied by the Sixties soul soundtrack that it demands.

I and the Village by Silva Semerciyan

Judging by the regularity of the news stories, perpetrating casual massacres with guns has become one of America’s favourite pastimes.

Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats may have got there first with "I Don’t like Mondays", while David Greig’s The Events explores similar territory but Silva Semerciyan has written an intelligent play that follows the activities of bright teenager Aimee from numerous perspectives.

I and the Village combines journalistic interviews after the event with snapshots of life for Aimee, her mother Robin and putative stepfather Randy in the period leading up to what must have seemed an inexplicable tragedy to all concerned.

The key here is that Aimee seems an archetypal ordinary youngster, the daughter of her school’s Principal, if something of a loner.

Clinically, the playwright takes us through a series of short scenes in which small slights gradually build to epic proportions in the mind of the young woman, leading to her attention-seeking explosion of anger after which life could never be the same for anyone involved.

Klippies by Jessica Siân

Set in South Africa, Klippies views life through the eyes of two teenagers, Thandi and Yolandi.

Very deliberately, Jessica Siân has gone against popular prejudice in a choice of dual protagonists.

15-year-old Thandi might be a Zulu but is well educated and comes from a privileged background.

Yolandi is Afrikaans and a year older. However, she comes from stock that the Americans might call trailer trash or, perhaps more pertinently in this scenario, White Trash.

While their initial meeting is strained and fiery, the two girls quickly become friends, proving that it is possible for each to derive something from the other despite the differences in their upbringings.

As such, Klippies can be seen as a coming-of-age, South African buddy drama, with inevitable political and racial undertones ensuring that viewers or readers will learn not only about the play’s subjects but the environment in which they live.

Monsters Dinosaurs Ghosts by Jimmy McAleavey

Not so long ago, the Northern Ireland Problem was a predominating issue not just for those in the province but also their neighbours in the south and across the Irish Sea.

Monsters Dinosaurs Ghosts harks back to the time when the IRA potentially ruled the roost at least as much as the British Army but views the internal turmoil from a modern perspective.

It features three main characters, two old men Wee Joe and Nig seeking both a reminder of former glories and catharsis plus L, young enough to be their grandson.

What ensues is a thriller with lashings of double-crossing as hidden alliances are gradually revealed prior to what was always likely to be an explosive ending.

Sense of an Ending by Ken Urban

This play can be a touch schematic but, even so, has incredible power.

That should not be so surprising when readers learn that it is set in Rwanda as Charles, a disgraced, plagiarising journalist tries to rescue his career and pay homage to a deceased former colleague.

In Kigali, he first meets two Hutu nuns accused of involvement in genocide who prima facie seem as innocent as their calling would suggest.

However, after Charles is introduced by a sinister policeman to Dusabi, a Tutsi widower with a terrifying story to tell, values become clouded.

Sense of an Ending is a superb read and must have a tremendous impact on stage as well.