Trajectory: Life After / Bricks and Mortar

Arabella Arnott / Steve Byron
Coracle in partnership with Alphabetti Theatre
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

Life After rehearsal photo - Carl Kennedy and Arabella Arnott
Bricks and Mortar - Paula Penman

Trajectory is a double bill: Life After by Arabella Arnott and Bricks and Mortar by Steve Byron, the former an hour long and the latter just twenty minutes. Both are two-handers, one male and one female character.

And they are both very funny, although in different ways.

In Life After, it is a year since the death of Sophie in a traffic accident. Helen, her sister, and Simon, her partner, are still trying to come to terms with life after Sophie. In a series of scenes we see them trying to move on, from the opening scene where they sit and remember while eating popcorn, through a disastrous attempt at speed dating and the pain caused by Helen’s decision to get rid of Sophie’s clothes, then a recognition of what they have been trying to ignore, moving to a shocking revelation and an ending which is… Well, no spoilers here.

It’s about loss, guilt and fear, fear of taking the next step, fear of revealing too much, fear of acknowledging one’s true feelings. It’s about two sad people unable to take that next step.

Doesn’t sound like a comedy? It isn’t, not really. We do laugh quite a lot but there’s always that feeling that perhaps we shouldn’t, that these poor people are stumbling in the dark, trying to make sense of a tragedy in their lives yet we are laughing. But it’s that ambiguity that gives the play its bite.

Arabella Arnott plays Helen and Carl Kennedy is Simon and both give very nuanced performances, eliciting our sympathy and yet exasperating us in equal measure, and Matt Jamie’s direction keeps the piece moving at just the right speed. Perhaps the gaps between scenes are a little too long, but there are costume changes so perhaps it’s inevitable.

Bricks and Mortar is very different. Think Psycho and imagine the mother character being not a mummified corpse but a very much alive but tied and bound man and Norman Bates being an elderly woman called Mary. Got it? Well, that’s the start of Steve Byron’s short play!

This is a hostage situation. The man is from the council who wish to rehouse Mary in a smaller property because, now that her son Gavin has died, she has an extra bedroom and there are families desperate for such council accommodation. But Mary has lived there for fifty years with her husband Cyril (now deceased) and son Gavin (also deceased) and there is no way she is going to move.

It is hilarious, laugh out loud funny, with a deliciously horror movie-like performance from Paula Penman as Mary, with David John Hopper as the bemused, scared but very conscious of his dignity man from the council. Director Gary Kitching makes sure that we miss nothing of the comedy (!) inherent in the situation.

And, the laughter apart, it does make a serious point about the way rules and regulations and those who enforce them take absolutely no account of people’s feelings.

It’s a well-balanced programme, showcasing once again the wealth of good, new writing being produced in North East theatre at the moment. It’s also Coracle’s first producing venture in the region. Let’s hope it isn’t the last.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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