Falling Pennies‘ latest production is Beetles From The West, a piece of original writing from James Hartnell. It has previously shown at the Lion and Unicorn, and now has a limited run at the Hope Theatre. It is based in a hospital, and follows Boyd & his girlfriend Jenny as they wait for the doctor to tell them what is wrong with Boyd’s father.
The play explores fatherhood and what it means to all three characters; for Boyd, his father is his world & has only ever existed to protect him, but for Jenny & Henry (the doctor) the concept is a bit more complicated & painful to think about. It also touches on the importance of the NHS, as the action takes place while one of the junior doctors’ strikes is in full swing, and of consulting doctors – “Please, don’t Google it”, stresses Henry. And, most importantly, the play looks at the sometimes thorny issue of men’s health. It has only been in the last few years that more attention has been paid to these particular diseases, thanks to things such as the annual Movember campaign & storylines in TV drama series. A proliferation of stories across artforms can only be a good way to raise awareness.
Hartnell’s script sharp & fresh; there are injections of comedy to lift the mood, as well as some truly shocking revelations that are teased out as the show progresses. It is largely in real-time, with monologues dotted along the way that allow the characters to voice their memories & help put the story into context. Ed Locke’s lighting & Sam Glossop’s sound designs play a key part in separating these out from the main narrative and allowing the audience to really focus in.
The additional sounds from the street below (including a timely ambulance siren!) really work for this play, giving it an authentic, busy feel – it doesn’t feel like an isolated room, rather something that’s part of a bigger whole.
The cast of three do a wonderful job. Chris Machari starts off cool & collected as Henry, but the cracks start to appear as he re-lives his relationship with his father. Shian Denovan (Jenny) is down to earth & funny, often working as a mediator between Boyd & Henry – but her own strength is also tested, and Denovan shows this vulnerability subtly coming to the surface.
Initially, Boyd (Ryan Penny) isn’t especially likeable, as the typical ‘man on the street’ with no sympathy for the striking doctors and lacking any real understanding of how the NHS works. However, as the story progresses you see that his anger is a mask for his fear: his dad had never been ill, and was always there for him. It is a raw, visceral performance from penny, with a subject matter that is very close to his heart.
My verdict? A timely piece that serves the NHS & men’s health frankly, yet sensitively – brilliantly staged, with performances to match.
Beetles From The West runs at the Hope Theatre (above the Hope & Anchor pub) until 23 July 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.