After wowing the crowds with their 5* Doomed Resistance at last year’s Camden Fringe, Falling Pennies returned with their next instalment of On The Night. This time, instead of one bumper evening packed with eight short plays they spread the fun out over two weeks, with four pieces of work in each show – and relocated to the Etcetera from their previous home of the Arcola.
The theme this time round was ‘Equality & Revolution’ – could it really be anything else? This subject area perfectly encapsulates the months between the last On The Night and this one; despite what you might assume, it’s an incredibly broad area, so there was potential for all sorts of ideas here.
Show one: Monday 21 May 2018
Mind The Gap – Jack Hesketh (dir. Zoe Morris)
From a seemingly frivolous beginning, this short play takes an unexpected and intriguing turn. Frank, Chris & Sam all wake up to find that, without warning, their penises have disappeared; each is now the proud owner of a vagina… Nobody knows why, but all they do know is that they’re not happy about it – or is that really the case? For Sam this could be the answer to all his problems, but he’s never been able to admit it. This piece has a lot of potential, and definitely should be given the chance to grow into something bigger. It’s undeniably entertaining, but the change in mood when Sam bares his soul is something I’d like to see explored further.
Ones and Zeros – Benedict Smith (dir. Charlotte Everest)
A husband and wife are playing Speak Out – a game where you fix your mouth in place (à la Wallace) and try to make the other understand what you’re saying. This harmless fun leads to the wife’s announcement of a second pregnancy, before she raises the subject of their young son and his attitude towards Alexa (Amazon’s virtual assistant, rather than an actual person) – whilst she knows Alexa is human, she’s worried that he will go on to treat real women in the same derogatory manner. This also forces unwelcome truths about her relationship with her husband. It really does make you think about how behaviours can be reinforced, as well as the fact that it’s Alexa rather than Alexander (as the wife remarks “what a surprise, it’s an assistant!”). The piece seemed quite short & snappy, so it could probably be extended a little further.
Gross Capital – James Mannion (dir. Matthew Marrs)
An unexpected leap into the past, as we encounter the barber surgeon Mr Hunter on the lookout for fresh corpses for his lecture – when he finally gets one (that of a recently hanged criminal), it seems to be slightly fresher than he had in mind… Despite the protestations of his assistant Mary (she thinks the boy’s too sweet- & innocent-looking to deserve this treatment, despite being convicted for some terrible crimes), Hunter arranges for him to be re-executed, so he doesn’t have to cancel his lecture. This was quite an ambitious piece, with several scene changes and props to be rearranged, but the cast handled this admirably. I would quite like to see this fleshed out a bit, just to make more of a salient point – plus, who can resist a bit of gallows humour?
Common Ground – Jonathan Skinner (dir. Alex Miller)
Ingrid is starting her own one-woman revolution, becoming something like a modern-day Robin Hood figure. She targets large, empty-looking houses, plundering them for all they’re worth – but this time it hasn’t gone quite to plan, as Bernard is actually at home… Things are understandably tense to start with, but Ingrid slowly understands the bigger picture, and that things aren’t always black and white. This meeting of angry idealist with beat-down realist allows both sides of the debate to be explored thoroughly, leaving the audience questioning their own views. To this end, it works perfectly as a standalone piece.
Show two: Monday 28 May 2018
Do Something – David Hendon (dir. Ryan Watson)
Does it matter what your true motives are if you want to do something to bring about change? As Lauren, Simon & Andy discover, effecting real change can only happen if you have clear aims in mind – and a good plan up your sleeve. Otherwise you’ll end up holding not-the-Prime Minister hostage with a bag over her head… We are living in an age where there is so much to protest about, and sometimes you can’t help but feel a bit helpless if you’re not getting stuck in with some practical action – but the flipside of this is that there will inevitably be people doing things for attention, exposure, etc. Hendon’s piece is pitched well, highlighting the importance of focus, with a lot of laughs along the way. I’d love to see a few more of this group’s inept protests!
Testoestrogen – Charlotte Warner & Darren Latham (dir. Peter Taylor)
Prime Minister Watson of the Feminist Party has brought in a new scheme that’s set to revolutionise the relationship between males & females; the testoestrogen programme will gradually bring men & women into biological alignment, meaning all manner of things can be assessed on more of a level playing field. The pay gap is down and the tables have been turned. Through the relationship of a typical couple (M & F) we see the personal side of what seems like, on a more general level, what is the fairest way of doing things – women thrive, but the men struggle. Is this truly equality? This piece is incredibly thought-provoking, as well as being very funny – “Loose Men with Danny fucking Dyer”, anyone?! It definitely feels like it has a lot more to give, so I hope to see it again in the future.
Isn’t He Handsome – Jennifer Cerys (dir. Jess Barton)
Nathan is bringing his new boyfriend Paul home to meet his parents for the first time; though his mum Sheila usually manages to put her foot in it, she means well – it’s his dad Jim he’s more concerned about. Despite the fact that he came out years ago, Jim has never been quite as accepting of his son’s sexuality as Sheila – a classic case of homophobia, or is there more to his behaviour..? I think this piece was staged particularly well, with a kind of ‘split screen’ idea as the action moves between separate rooms; your focus is of course on those speaking, but it’s quite nice to see the other character(s) still going about their business on the other side, making the play run almost in real-time. It’s a very funny piece of writing, though with a few shocks and twists along the way – good as a standalone piece, but with definite potential to explore more of the family’s secrets…
Sunny Side Up – Alan Hall (dir. George Coates)
Gerry and Mary have gone down to Brighton for a short holiday, though the hotel isn’t up to Gerry’s exacting standards. They get chatting to a young mum (Jane) at breakfast, though it’s quite a frosty first encounter thanks to Gerry’s somewhat challenging behaviour & beliefs. As they talk to her more, their eyes are opened to the terrible truth of her situation – and that of others like her. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” could not be more apt, and it even gets Gerry to start considering how to help other people (though with some benefit to him, naturally). This piece is hard-hitting, yet entertaining; the majority of the laughs came for Lawrence Russell’s particularly outrageous portrayal of Gerry, showing just how ridiculous his stance is. Including some pertinent facts and figures by way of an epilogue is a good conversation starter, and I think this piece should definitely be seen more widely in its current form.
They were two rather hot and sweaty nights, but all worth it in the end; another great quality set of new pieces and lots to think about. I hope we do see more of some of them in the not-too-distant future, and also that another On The Night may be on the horizon – someone please do write a musical that could be a part of it!
In the meantime, Falling Pennies will be concentrating on Simon Godfrey’s new farce Beyond the Grave – its first performance at Plymouth Fringe went down brilliantly, and they’ll be back to spook Camden Fringe in August…
On The Night: Equality & Revolution ran at the Etcetera Theatre on 21 & 28 May 2018.