Make it Write present Start Square, a new play written by their Director and Producer, Sharon Colpman. The play, directed by Steff Hudson, aims to explore themes of domestic violence against men, grief and loss.
The play tells the story of Arthur Watts (John Jones), a lonely older man who shares his home with Peter the Parrot (voiced by Jade Cunningham). It is clear from the beginning of the play that Arthur is struggling to come to terms with the death of a loved one, has no family or friends in his life and only knows what day it is by watching who is going into the village hall opposite his house. Desperately hoping to meet someone to share the rest of his life with, Arthur goes to the aid of Dorothy Fry (Frances Broudie-Oldridge) when her car breaks down outside the village hall. They bond over a cup of tea as Arthur charges her car battery and it looks like Arthur may at least have found a new friend. But Dorothy isn’t all she appears to be and her entering his life sparks off a chain of events which expose his tragic past.
The game, Snakes and Ladders is used in the play to symbolise life’s ups and downs. The set is used to give a literal nod to this theme with the stage featuring snake shaped carpeting and colourful ladders standing in several places. Photographs of the young Arthur (Lew Freeburn) and his wife, Jean (Catherine Fahy) are displayed on jigsaw pieces adding to the symbolism of life being a game.
The pace of the play is quite slow and steady, which creates an ominous feeling and some tension. However there were some pauses between scenes which were just too long and it wasn’t always clear why the action had stopped. These pauses caused a sap in energy and in future performances it would be worth considering upping the pace and removing these pauses.
The animatronic parrot is extremely well made and adds a sense of realism to the fantastical elements of the scenery. Cunningham’s vocal talents are excellent and the characterisation of the parrot is a good combination of comforting companionship for Arthur and eerie ominousness of the secrets the parrot knows. Unfortunately the nature of the theatre meant that Cunningham could be seen behind the curtain, complete with torch, throughout the performance which was distracting on occasion. Of course, there is little that can be done when a Company is limited by the nature of the space, but it may have been worth considering pre-recording the lines and having these incorporated into the overall sound effects of the show or having Cunningham speak the lines from another location, such as the tech-box.
The play does a very good job of exploring the loneliness of old people in today’s world. The blurring of days and mundanity of routine are explored well. Regrettably, when stronger emotions such as anger and anguish are needed, the power and energy to show these at their full capacity is lacking. It often felt like Jones and Broudie-Oldridge were holding back to some extent, which made it difficult to connect fully with their characters.
The sub-plot involving Dorothy was quite extreme and a distraction from the core plot of the domestic violence against Arthur. While it wasn’t entirely unfeasible, it was quite improbable and didn’t really add anything to the key message the play seemed to be trying to get across.
Freeburn and Fahy’s portrayals as the younger couple were outstanding and it seems a shame that they featured in such a short segment of the play. Both were fully developed characters and the darkness in their relationship was palpable. It would have been interesting to feature them more in the play and explore the dynamics of their relationship in greater detail.
Domestic violence is obviously a very difficult subject to tackle in any artistic medium, and our instincts tell us to turn away from it. Gender stereotypes in domestic violence are a very interesting topic to explore, but this play does feel like it is turning away from the darkest elements of this issue on many occasions.
The story has many good elements and the play could be a very powerful piece if the Company removed the elements of the play where the script and actors are holding back and allowed itself to fully immerse in the world they are exploring.
Make it Write Productions CIC aim to support new playwrights and creatives of all ages a platform to gain experience. You can find out more about them on their website or by following them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Start Square is being performed again at the Gladstone Theatre on 31 January 2020. Tickets are available here.
The play is supported by the Paul Lavelle Foundation, who aim to raise awareness of domestic abuse against men. You can learn more on their website.
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