Allison Davies / Sam Neale / Elijah Young
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
Alphabetti opens its autumn 2019 season with three short plays on related themes by a mixture of new and established North East writers, directed by a mixture of new and established North East directors and performed by established North East actors. In accordance with its policy of making theatre accessible to everyone, no matter what their circumstances, tickets are Pay What You Please.
It is this mixing of the young and the experienced producing fresh new work made easily available to those who have and those who have not the money to afford to go to a theatre that makes Alphabetti so consistently exciting and a very important part of the NE theatre ecology.
The three plays deal with very different relationships at different stages and together they make a very satisfying evening’s theatre.
Written by Sam Neale and directed by Natasha Haws, Familiar looks at romantic relationships, or rather at a particular romantic relationship at various stages, part of the time in the woman’s mind and part in real time. She (she refuses to allow him to say her name, although he does) sums it up towards the end:
You are the worst thing that ever happened to me.
…and you’re the love of my life. How pathetic is that?
Between them Christina Berriman Dawson (She) and Brian Lonsdale (Him) lead us back and forth through the development and deterioration of this relationship in which familiarity is what holds them together but also, strangely, pushes them apart.
This complex relationship begins when they are young (just out of university) and lasts, in one form or another, for years (“Years I’ve been free of you. Full, actual years”), but they keep coming back, because even the pain is familiar and She—for it is actually told from her point of view, although that is not, at first, obvious—cannot break away.
Sam Neale, although already a well-established NE actor, is just beginning her career as a playwright and this piece, because of the complexity of its emotions, makes a lot of demands on the actors and the director and they meet the challenge, leaving the audience with much to think about.
NASA Lies The Earth Is Flat No Curve
Written by Elijah Young and directed by Karen Traynor.
It’s very early in the morning and Amy, a stripper played by Eleanor Chaganis, and bouncer Sharon (Paula Penman) phone for a taxi to take them home. They live close together so it makes sense to share. As they wait, they talk. Both are quite drunk and swig from a bottle of Cava. They haven’t really talked before.
Here we see the beginning of a new relationship, an unlikely friendship between two very different women. They are getting to know each other, exploring and finding out. Isn’t a female bouncer hard? Could anyone want to be a stripper, even enjoy it?
As the wait for the taxi lengthens, the talk moves beyond the superficial; Amy believes that NASA is conning the world and your phone is recording everything you say; Sharon found her best friend dead in his flat.
It’s fascinating to watch and listen as the drink-fuelled (and, in Amy’s case, probably also coke-fuelled) talk progresses and the two women reveal more and more of themselves.
Elijah Young is in the very early years of his writing career but, like his first full-length play Isolation, it shows he has an imaginative sensitivity and can create really convincing characters. Director Karen Traynor with actors Penman and Chaganis do him proud.
Written by Allison Davies and directed by Stan Hodgson.
Another play, another type of relationship, this time between child and parent, Taz (Kylie Ann Ford) who works part-time on a zero-hours contract in a job she hates to look after her dementia-suffering father (Rob Kirtley).
Davies, the most experienced writer of the three, creates a character in Taz who is relentlessly ground down, not just by the boring nature and uncertainty of her job or the contempt towards people like her shown by the management but also by the constant reminders of others who have been so much more successful. Every morning there seems to be a woman her age on the radio who has done something extraordinary: published a novel, bought an island…
“They say you can be anything you want. On the telly, an' that. Just believe, work hard.”
But of course it’s not true, and she knows that it is, in her own word, “bollocks.”
And then her father goes missing and there are questions from the police.
Yet more excellent direction and performances bring this evening of plays developed through Alphabetti’s Just Write project to a very satisfying conclusion.
Don’t miss it. Three fine pieces of writing, well directed and performed in a great, friendly space and you only pay what you want—it’s definitely a win-win situation.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan