How Did We Get to This Point? / Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Ali Pritchard / Steve Byron
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
How Did We Get to This Point?
In September 2014, Ali Pritchard, Allison Davies and Pip Chamberlin created a short play called How Did I Get to This Point? which was performed in the Studio at Live Theatre as a response to Wet House which was then running in the Main House. It told the stories of three homeless people, interspersed with facts about homelessness, investigating how each of the protagonists got to the point where they were homeless.
At that time, Alphabetti, which was (and is) run by Pritchard, operated in an upstairs room in a Newcastle pub, The Dog and Parrot. A few months later, a crowd-funding campaign was launched, grants were found and Alphabetti moved to its current premises, a basement in an office block in the city centre.
Now the theatre had been given notice that it must move out in spring 2017 as the building is to be redeveloped. This didn’t come out of the blue; they knew from the start that sooner or later this would happen. Now Pritchard and the rest of the Alphabetti team are looking for new premises.
All of the above reads more like a news story than a review but it is background which is essential to a full understanding and appreciation of How Did We Get to This Point?, for this much longer piece weaves together stories of the homeless people Pritchard has met through various projects in which he has been involved, both theatrical and with the charity Crisis, with his own life, both personal and professional, since he left university. It touches on mental health issues, including attempted suicide and self-harm, the struggle to realise a dream, financial problems (his own and Alphabetti’s), personal relationships and dog ownership.
Three actors (Rosie Fox, Dean Logan and Rosie Stancliffe), directed by Ben Dickenson and supported by live music from Haythem Mohamed and animation by Ben Walden, play all the parts. All play Pritchard. When they are him, holding a pencil, they sit in the one chair on stage, next to a table with what appears to be the script in some stage of development, and slip on the Ali Pritchard coat. In their other roles—and each plays a number: the homeless, the mentally ill, the frightened, a real variety—there is no swapping around.
So what we have is a lot of different stories, which for the most part do not connect with each other, broken into short sections and rearranged to be as emotionally powerful as possible. It shouldn’t work but it does, perhaps because of the unstated but ever-present thought that Pritchard could—just possibly could—have gone the way of one of the other characters. Also, of course, because of the strong performances from the actors under Dickenson’s tight direction.
What is sure is that there is a quiet desperation which suffuses the whole piece, particularly in the homeless segments but also in much of Pritchard's story, and we are certainly left wondering how on earth did we allow our society to get to this point.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Wrong Place, Wrong Time is a much shorter piece, written in response to the issues raised by How Did We Get to This Point?. It’s a one-woman piece, performed by Paula Penman and written and directed by Steve Bryron (co-author and performer of Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers at Alphabetti in October), which focuses on a young girl from a dysfunctional family and how her life and her essential innocence are twisted by her circumstances. And yes, the dysfunctional family may be a cliché but that doesn’t stop it being the cause of much unhappiness, homelessness and criminality.
Although this girl’s story is, we suspect, similar to those covered in the first play, the tone is very different. There’s no quiet desperation here; there’s raw emotion—indeed raw passion; there’s anger and pain, and misery which, as misery begets misery, spreads beyond the girl and her family.
It’s a powerful play, powerfully performed by Penman, complementing How Did We Get to This Point? by showing, through her family, other kids and the school, how she did get to that point, making us ask a slightly different question than before: why on earth did we allow our society to get to this point?
Reviewer: Peter Lathan