A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre...

Sara Chernaik, Idil Aydinli, Hussain Raza, Cathy Jansen-Ridings, Rebecca Hardy and Paul Harris
Chickenshed Studio

Ashley Driver and Kat Walker Credit: Elia Criscuoli
Lara De Caro Credit: Elia Criscuoli
Sophie White and Finn Walters Credit: Elia Criscuoli

Stories help us make sense of the world, cope with trauma, cheer us up in difficult times and even give us an extra push to do something different with our lives.

The nine pieces of new writing taking place over two separate evenings in Chickenshed’s two-week season of storytelling explore the way people mobilise stories in response to personal issues.

The women in two of the five monologues are grieving the death of a family member. The unnamed woman given a sensitive performance by Julie Wood in My Mother Once Asked Me by Sara Chernaik sits in an armchair at the centre of a thrust stage, occasionally pulling out pictures from a box on the small table beside her.

Recalling her own surprise when her mother once asked her where her mind wanders to because she hadn’t though anyone had noticed, she begins to talk about other memories, some of an unusual, intimate nature such as her mum’s admission that she had a lover in the distant past and also of having been with a woman.

Her mind turns to hospitals and death. She thinks about her grandmother crying as she lit the candle of respect for someone who died. She admits that she feels “angry, joyful and alone”

(I did not see the following plays that were part of the season: Feedback, Storytelling and Rallying Cry.)

In Idil Aydinli’s All Too Seeing performed by the writer, we see an apparently confident woman putting the last touches to her make-up as she prepares to go out. She tells us she is really popular, that colleagues tell her “work will be so lifeless without you.”

You’d think she was some kind of celebrity the way she swans around, but we soon realise these are the stories she tells herself to hold back the pain of losing someone very close to her. An urgent phone call while she’s out breaks the mood and returns her to her home and the alcohol that also helps soften her loss.

In a heated phone call with her dad, she bitterly tells him that, “I was there for your fuck up.” In a final moving sequence, she says to her dead mother, “why can I feel your gaze? You have been there all the time. Tell me you still love me. I’m so pitifully lost, mum.”

The gentle coming-of-age play Spectrum by Hussain Raza opens with the teenage lad Sam (Finn Walters) intently watching a sports event on his phone. A teenage girl Nadia (Sophie White) arrives, playfully nudging him.

Good friends for a number of years, they begin talking about their future, pushing toy trains around the table and imagining being in a barber’s shop with Nadia cutting Sam’s hair while he talks about his worries.

He recalls being diagnosed with autism at a very early age and the way that label affected the way he is seen. “Why do they see my brain as a shit mess… I feel like I’m stuck in a pot of syrup.”

But he is still hopeful. As he leaves, Nadia passes him the toy train, which prompts him to say he wants to be a like a train conductor who gets “everyone to the right destination.”

Dark Immortal by Cathy Jansen-Ridings is a very different coming-of-age story. It is set in the home of the youngish Dracula (Paul Harris) who is bored and a bit depressed, especially with the wailing of his vampire brides from another part of the castle. He is about to have a lie down in his coffin when a visitor arrives. His housemaid, Ana-Majena (Sarah Driver), thinks the white-robed Gabriel D’Angelo (Benedict Lawson) will cheer him up. You can guess that was not going to work, but the slick, funny performance had the audience constantly laughing.

A much bleaker mood dominates Rebecca Hardy’s Bullet in My Heart, which takes its name from the song of the same name. A young schoolgirl (Lara De Caro) truanting from school speaks to us as she waits in the cold watching her home for the moment her dad leaves so she can sneak in.

She’s done this before and seen her dad receive a woman visitor and then close the upstairs bedroom curtains. Fearing these events mark the end of her parents' relationship, she wonders if it will also leave her alone in the world.

Good to Be Alive by Paul Harris is a very funny take on hospital care. Ashley Driver and Kat Walker in hospital gowns playing the same character banter about hospital conditions and the consequences of the illness.

Waking at four in the morning leaves him in darkness till the lights are turned on four and half hours later. A tray of food placed slightly away from the bed is difficult to access when he is connected to a tube in the wall. Then there is the prospect of his condition leading to sexual impotence, though he brushes that off, claiming he is “being unchained from a lunatic.”

It’s not just the comments that generate gales of laughter; it is also the facial gestures, particularly of Ashley Driver who seems to be able to prompt amusement with the raising of an eyebrow.

This season of new work is thoughtful, entertaining and confidently performed, but given the current cost of living crisis and the controversy surrounding such institutions as the police and Parliament, I was surprised how apolitical it all was. But then even in socially difficult times, there is the need to retreat to the personal and the humorous.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?