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Dispatches 3

by on 14 December 2018

An Essential Injection of Fresh Voices

Dispatches 3

OSO at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 6th December

A Review by Georgia Renwick

Writing for the stage is not an art form that is intrinsic, but one that is honed. The ‘scratch night’ format provides a platform for writers to try out their work in front of a live audience, gauge their responses and to see how it can be interpreted creatively by directors and performers. Perhaps they uncover something new they had not hitherto intended, perhaps it’s onto the London fringe, or maybe it’s back to the drawing board. Whatever the outcome, it’s an important part of the process that unequivocally influences the work of the writer.

The Dispatches scratch night returns to the OSO for the third time after debuting in March of this year, led by ambitious young producer Justin Treadwell. This return – and the fact that it is packed out once again – serves to show that ‘scratch’ is not only important, it is popular, too. Dispatches has garnered that popularity by presenting a diverse collection of new work, selected from hundreds in an open submission process.

 

Tonight’s selection is a series of eight pieces, each ten minutes long. Like a skilful short story, the ten-minute play is a tough art to master and I was pleasantly surprised by just how eloquently a good proportion of the writers achieved it. There were some very neat – and some shocking – twists. Although no overarching theme has consciously been decided upon, there were noticeable similarities in the topics being explored. Our attitude to death, intimacy (or lack thereof) in modern relationships and family secrets inadvertently tie all eight together. One of the most satisfying things about watching scratch work is that hot-of-the-press quality. Typically a play you are watching on the stage has spent years in development and programming to get where it is – these are fresh voices writing, right now.

The One, written by Lindsey Rose and directed by Alex Stenhouse, sets an appropriate tone for the evening; sharp, funny and a little bit strange. It concerns a dating agency who in their dedication to providing a fully customised service, have signed their young male client up with a stalker. Turning down the option of an ‘anxiety cuddle bunny’ Chris goes ahead with the match. He just wants someone to look his way and it turns out Anna, the girl he is matched with, just wants to be seen. Abbey Gardner and Joseph Thomas make a sweet pairing and I would like to see more of how their match plays out. Rose has tapped into a very current anxiety, and with impersonal apps like Tinder continuing to frustrate, perhaps a return to matchmaking services (of the more extreme and kind) is the natural next step. But I think I would probably rather take the bunny.

Taking a sharp turn towards the strange, writer William Patterson’s A Gradual Incline is an absurdist sketch concerning two men who, in classic absurdist fashion, aren’t sure who or where they are, or where they ought to be going. It feels rather like a quite skilful pastiche of Pinter’s memory play period, but in only ten minutes there is not a lot of space for it to develop. Patterson’s writing is at its most effective when it is searching, questioning, and the rushing in of more concrete details is to the piece’s detriment. Nonetheless, Michael Davies and Dominic Upton are engaging to watch.

Scratch nights are quite often dogged by last minute dropouts (such is the lifestyle of the early-career actor) but The Talk, by Jonathan Hughes carries on regardless. Set in a ‘good, Protestant’ household in Northern Ireland, father and son both find themselves in an awkward position around the breakfast table. They must ‘come-out’ to each other about their secret identities – the son about his sexual identity, and the father, his political one. Sounds serious? Well, nobody does dark humour quite like the Irish. Hughes’ writing and Megan McArthur’s direction bring out the comic in the perverse, and that final line… a stroke of comic genius! Samuel Chapman has a stab at the Northern Irish accent, which given he stepped in last minute (he will appear later on in the night, too) is worthy of a mention. Mike Duran and Ali Perotto are naturals at the bickering and thinly-veiled quiet resentment of a long-married couple.

Monologue all the men who used to text me back takes the most confessional tone of the night. Painfully honest, it’s hard sometimes to know whether to laugh or wince at some of descriptions writer Michelle Barnette has come up with. Lydia Bradford is to be commended for getting some of those words out with a straight, and endearing, face! Barnette’s structure has been thoughtfully rendered, and as Bradford concludes her tale of dating woe there is a touching moment of revelation to conclude the squirming, laughing melee. The title is a little misleading as there is just one man, perhaps there are more squirm-inducing stories yet to be recounted? I know most women have at least a couple such dating stories just waiting for a ready audience!

Onto act two, and there’s some uncomfortable truths to be found in the opener, dystopian Scheduled Transition by Emma Griffiths. In her searching piece, euthanasia has become legal, but at this corporate clinic, are their customers really getting the end they wished for? Who is really pulling the strings, and what do they seek to gain from it? Ella Jarvis makes for an eerily ice cold employee, who melts, troublingly, as she is flustered by Mike Duran’s relaxed but probing questions. Perhaps a little too relaxed for someone who has chosen to die, but then this is a future that is potentially not so far away – so who knows! Director Daniel Toye skilfully handles ‘the moment’ itself with a tactful swivel chair, a well-considered choice.

In or Out, Nicky Denovan’s tale of a robotic cat, is delightful light relief. Moggy Mr Twitchem’s believes he is the only light of his owner’s life, when a robotic rival arrives in a cardboard box. The intruder has technological advancement, but can Mr Twitcham’s outsmart the competition and win back his owner’s affections? Performed as a rehearsed reading and without a director due to another last minute drop out, the two cats are performed with voice only. Charming and hilarious in itself, it would be even more of a treat to see them move around. To stretch out a paw to clean their whiskers, or bask in the sunny spot from the window. This charming piece is certainly ripe for another performance, heck, I would take Mr Twitchem’s home with me and listen to him all evening if I could! Alice McGregor will also pop back later – but not through a cat-flap this time.

There is a delicious nostalgic quality to the penultimate piece of the night, Candyfloss. Brian Eley has captured that divine magic, reminiscent of ‘The Go-Between’ or ‘Great Expectations’, in his telling of a childhood tale with the sobering perspective of an adult. Samuel Chapman (seen earlier in The Talk) plays the writer in the tale in a meta-theatrical twist, as well as the principal male characters with a captivating fluidity, whilst Alice McGregor’s performance as ‘the actor’ assisting him in his retelling has a visual fluency that is irresistible to the eye. That this is a highlight of the evening, in performance and in writing quality, I am in no doubt. Aran Cherkez has kept things simple in his direction, and the work speaks for itself.

Ending on Can You Dig It makes sense when you see the construction that goes into it, but then levels are called for when you’re literally digging a grave and Sophie Storm Killip has brought them! Poppy Cleere’s imagination has sure been to some deep, dark places to dream up this little gem of a dark comedy. A lone woman digging up a grave in the dead of night; why is she there? And what’s in the bag? She is rudely interrupted in telling us by a stranger, who has his own reasons for digging alone by lamplight… Beth Watson is at once endearing and untrustworthy, it’s a tricky combination she brings to life with gusto. Eoin McAndrew is profoundly creepy, there’s no other way to describe it. One to watch.

Dispatches is an essential injection of fresh, vibrant voices to the OSO and to South West London’s theatre scene. Variety, in essence, is what it offers the casual theatre goer but to writers, performers and directors it offers a springboard. You may have missed them this time, but remember their names… whatever the outcome, they’re going places.

Georgia Renwick
December 2018

Photography by Laura Sedgewick

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