Following great success in April, on Sunday Falling Pennies ran their second ‘On The Night‘ event at the Arcola Theatre. The aim of the event is to give writers a chance to have their work performed, so they can see how an audience responds to it and what they need to work on. It’s a showcase for short plays (around 15 minutes each), all loosely based around a common theme. This time it was ‘Second Chances’.
Mind the Gap (written by Tom Hartwell, directed by Ryan Bradley)
The perfect opener. Four passengers on the Tube, voicing their inner thoughts during the morning commute, complete with the usual announcements – but more how the speaker would like to say them… Everything that happens is immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever spent any amount of time on the Tube. From dilemmas in the priority seat & questioning passengers’ taste in music, to the terrible content of the Metro & the enduring hilarity of the word ‘Cockfosters’. On the whole, it has the feel of a comedy sketch show piece – it would easily fit as a regular feature throughout one episode, or an entire series. Also, there are plenty of other scenarios that could be explored, should they wish to make a slightly more extended version. It came together really well onstage, with chairs simply arranged and the actors miming holding the poles & moving along with the train. The cast were superb, especially Jim Mannering as the increasingly frustrated announcer, and Zed Josef as a hyper-paranoid passenger who regrets using the priority seat.
Two Sides (written by Elizabeth Rushford-Johnson, directed by Alex Howarth)
A story of lost love & new lives. Aine unexpectedly bumps into her ex, Will, and ends up telling him a bit of a lie about her personal life, thinking there would be no consequences as he was moving to Australia with his fiancée. However, a year later they meet again, and then once more four years down the line. She initially runs with her story but, as we’re told from the outset, she’s not a good liar – and the truth comes out at their final meeting. The play is a clever mix of monologue & dialogue, with live acoustic guitar played in between scenes. It’s funny & touching, as you see the characters grow & change between their encounters.
500 PCM (written by Rob Hughes, directed by Anne Stoffels)
As suggested by the title, this play is set in a flat – Jess is moving out and Aiden is doing his best to stop it. It largely consists of Jess listing everything she hates about London, from people standing in the way, to hating her job & knowing she could do exactly the same one somewhere else. All very identifiable for the audience, though Aiden sees it differently; he has some absolutely cracking one-liners (delivered faultlessly by Kyle Fraser) and is convinced Jess really would prefer to stay. The idea definitely has potential with a bit of fleshing out, though maybe it’s more suited to the screen than the stage. Despite there being only two characters, it felt quite busy as Jess was moving around & packing things up – she could do with not being offstage for quite so long during her speeches, as there’s nothing really to look at. An interesting concept, however, of giving a place (rather than a person) a second chance.
Colour of Lamps (written & directed by James Hartnell)
Absolutely hilarious. It very cleverly sets out the foundations for the story, all seeming quite serious, but once we have the big reveal it’s all flipped on its head. The only character name we knew before it began was Al, the rest of the cast simply represented an initial (J, P, E & A). When it turns out they’re all Disney characters transposed to the present day… For someone like me, who grew up with these characters & knows their stories inside out, it’s brilliant to see how they’re coping in the 21st century: Aladdin is due at court as he’s accused of blowing up Agrabah marketplace, Eric thinks Ariel’s a hoarder & should get therapy, and Pocahontas talks to the trees on her phone. There are a lot of in-jokes for Disney fans, and the twist of modernity works really well. Line of the night: “I didn’t know Abu was into all that Jihadi stuff!”
Angels (written by Patch Harris, directed by Shelley Knowles)
Michael has no idea where he is, or what has just happened to him, but luckily Angela is there to help: he’s actually just died in a plane crash. Having reached Reincarnational And Transitional Services (RATS), they need to go back through his past decisions and work out what he should go back as… It’s not looking good, as the initial suggestions are a vole, pig or otter! But when he reveals the reason for his inebriated state on the plane, Angela is moved to give him the second chance nobody could ever expect. In some ways, the reveal does come out of nowhere & Angela is quite easily swayed – though with a bit of padding out it might feel a bit more convincing.
The X Immigrant (written by Tania Van Amse, directed by Georgia Leanne Harris)
A play of two halves. To start with, it’s all quite entertaining – Michelle is on a government-sanctioned gameshow seeking asylum in the UK, and has to choose her accent & say a set of words that have been selected by the public. It manages to strike the balance between funny & terrifying, as you know there are some people who would absolutely delight in watching something like this, but it’s so horrible that it would never actually happen (right?). It then transpires that this is a couple practising for the actual thing. The truth about the severity of the rules & history of the show comes out, and Michelle is forced into taking a drastic & very personal decision just to try & save herself. It highlights the plight of refugees in a stark, unsettling way – and in the context of the past few days, it now seems a very scary thing indeed. This is definitely worth exploring further.
Before and After (written by Alexis Strum, directed by Nick Sayce)
Leanne & Sarah are taking part in ‘Bobby Castle’s Miracle Makeovers’ – a TV show that is supposedly showing a woman losing weight and coming out more confident & happier in herself. In actual fact, both women are playing the same person, ‘Carol’: Leanne is ‘before’ and Sarah is ‘after’. It’s ‘reality TV’ at its worst & most inauthentic (Sarah is a RADA-trained actress), and Bobby Castle’s second chance at fame. Much of the piece consists of Sarah & Leanne getting to know each other in the waiting area; the former out to impress with her anecdotes, the latter hugely excited just to meet one of her idols. Alexis Strum & Donna Preston are fantastic in these exchanges, in particular when Sarah (Strum) shows off her impersonation of Leanne (Preston). Slowly it becomes clear to us that the show is even shadier than it first appeared, helped by the sleazy Castle (Ben Green) & his runner/producer/caterer/executive producer/director (Matthew Warhurst). This definitely deserves further life, be it on stage or screen.
Distracted (written by Stuart Pursell, directed by Billy Coughlin)
The final play of the night revolves around disillusioned playwrights Chris & Charlotte, who come up with the most drastic of plans to finally taste success. It is very thoughtfully written, as it first seems to be a bit of a prank – sending envelopes to London’s theatres to scare them (for example, flour to the National Theatre which could pass as anthrax). This is “Plan L”. As Chris talks this through with Charlotte a bit further, it seems she’s done a lot more than first suspected, and the plan is a bit more serious (and set in stone) than anticipated. Before long, it’s progressed to “Plan N”, involving her writing from prison, putting his name to it & them achieving the success they’ve always dreamed of. It’s an entertaining & thought-provoking piece – Charlotte’s plans are ridiculous, but is a bit of extremeness needed to get where you want? In theatre or any other walk of life. It’s a good premise for a short play, and would be interesting to see developed further.
It was a brilliant night, filled with exciting pieces of new writing. There is great potential for these short productions to have extended life – one of the plays from the first event (on the theme of ‘New Beginnings’), Remedial Remedies, has since been turned into a full production and is making its debut Upstairs at the Gatehouse at the end of July.
The sky really is the limit for these pieces, and I can’t wait to see what futures they have. I also look forward to the next ‘On The Night’ event to keep the new writing coming!