Northern Exposure Double Bill
It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow
By Dom Grace and Boff Whalley
and Me, as a Penguin By Tom Wells Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Two plays arising from WYPs commendable dedication to nurturing new writers. All three writers met during WYP master classes given by Associate Artist, Colin Teevan.
It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow takes us back to a working class suburb of Leeds and Dunkerque in 1941. Brother John (15 years) and Phillip (12 years) look after an ailing young mother; dad Jack is in the great retreat. The kids decide to hitch to Hull, there to get an orange for Mum. Meanwhile Dad is at the front, conversing with a materialised Mum and a dead comrade.
Me, as a Penguin is set in Hull, today, or hereabouts. Liz is heavily pregnant and knitting; brother Stitch is a welcome/not so welcome younger brother from Withernsea, having trouble with his sexual lifestyle. (Who wouldn't in Withernsea? we are invited to ask). Mark, Liz's chap, has an ambiguous relationship with Stitch. Mark's pal Dave, aquarium attendant dressed as a penguin, has an unambiguous exploitative sexual relationship with Stitch. And Stitch has a dead baby penguin and a lot of pain. It's a very funny play.
There is a fine cast, but it is badly miscast. John Catterall makes a very good older brother, and Samantha Power, having made a good fist of Mam, is really quite brilliant as pregnant Liz. She is fully into the part. But Tom Hudson (younger brother and Stitch) draws attention to his acting most of the time, though his Stitch begins to show great promise at the end. And whilst Robin Simpson's Dad is good enough, his Dave is misjudged to the extreme. All good actors though, doing their best on short rehearsal time and some poor design/directorial decisions. An informative/ironic blackboard on which character write or draw that which the play should be telling us? Memories of school plays? No thanks!
In passing. Where was the dialect coach? I guess all four actors were 'putting on' a regional accent, but it came from Granada not Leeds or Humberside. Both plays were written with the lexicon and rhythms of a specific region - they deserved better! If nothing else it could have been on the Yorkshire side of the mountains.
The second play comes out of this crucible well. It's a brilliant script scattered with top quality one-liners and deeply felt undercurrents.
The first play suffers greatly from director Alex Chisholm's decision to have the actors moving furniture in reduced lighting. Totally unnecessary and must have taken enough rehearsal time to ensure that she and the actors never really had the opportunity to investigate the depths of the script. In fact the script has the feel of a radio play and a different stage play, stuck together. But it is a serious play with some good writing in it which needed a little restructuring and much more rehearsal before being exposed to an audience. We should not be left asking: Is dad dead, AWOL, on leave or honourably discharged; when did Mum die? I guess that everyone concerned knows the answers. I didn't, and nor did some others in the theatre.
However, due praise to WYP for bringing out new writers.
Reviewer: Ray Brown