People-watching can be one of life’s great joys; depending on where you are, this could be one short cameo appearance in your day (seeing someone actually slip on a banana skin, for example) or you could find yourself gripped in something more involved (such as an argument that escalates into an actual fight). This is the feeling you get watching Steve Bird’s Second Glances – a collection of four short stories that covers a range of scenarios and emotions. It was performed as part of the Liverpool Fringe Festival in the quirky surroundings of the Gibberish Brewpub, with direction from Bryony Thomas, Rachael Smart and Sarah Gould.
In Bus, one man is hoping to get on with a bit of paperwork in the relative peace & quiet of the bus, when a pair of noisy schoolgirls get on and cause considerable disruption; the consequences of his attempts to reason with them may end up having a wider reach than first expected… Sweet Old World finds Nikki up on the rooftop, listening to music and seeing how close she can get to the edge, when Dave arrives and decides he needs to try and talk her down – but is she the one who really needs saving? Dancing with Catherine is a bittersweet look at the effect of ageing and memory loss, as Stan reminisces with Katy about going out dancing with the love of his life, though what he’s having for tea that evening proves difficult to keep in his memory. In Kid Gloves, the Kid is the cock of the walk, arriving for his fight with supreme confidence and quick to belittle the first person he meets in the changing rooms – but is there more to this cornerman than meets the eye..?
There’s a lot to like about these four short plays and, although there isn’t a single narrative that runs through all of them, they feel very well grouped together; there’s a truth to these stories that is instantly recognisable (and relatable, in certain instances). Between then there’s a healthy balance of humour, drama and emotion, all ending up with a twist that you don’t quite see coming – this is the ‘second glance’ coming into play.
Sweet Old World (“Strangers in the night, exchanging glances”) and Kid Gloves (“The loneliest place in the world”) are two good standalone plays; the former an eerie & serious piece (though peppered with dark humour) and the latter a laugh-out-loud funny short that ends the evening in great humour – the boxer nicknames are particularly amusing. Bus (“A journey, a conversation, a nightmare”) and Dancing with Catherine (“Looking back is good, staying there isn’t”) are both great as they are, but both feel like they have real potential to be developed into something slightly longer. They are two pertinent stories; Bus could possibly be given a bit more time to delve into the characters a bit more, whilst Stan’s memories could be mined further – I’m sure he’d have some more stories to tell, which could take place over several visits before encountering the twist.
As well as the writing, I’d like to highlight some standout performances. Bethany George hints at Nikki’s vulnerability that lies beneath her tough exterior, and Greg Vicary is excellent opposite her as the troubled Dave – Vicary also impresses as the Kid, particularly when his arrogance gets the better of him. Andrew C Husband & Bryony Thomas give amusing yet affecting performances as Stan & Katy, and Alan Kenny is especially hilarious as the supposed cornerman in Kid Gloves.
Overall, this is a terrific collection of stories that ring true no matter where you’re from – and come together to make an enjoyable night out.
My verdict? A well balanced set of four short plays that allow you to do a spot of people-watching – and keep you on your toes until the very end.
Second Glances ran at Gibberish Brewpub from 7-8 June 2019.