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Blast from the Past

by on 8 January 2020

Impetuous Blasts with Eyeless Rage

Blast from the Past and Stage Door Blues

by Marc Harris

Barnes Community Players at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, 7th January

Review by Eleanor Lewis 

The subject of ageing and coming to terms with the life changes accompanying it is currently a hot topic for dramatists. Marc Harris has taken up the theme in his new play, Blast from the Past.

The story is that of Tim Horton, a successful actor who has reached retirement age where he is struggling with the loss of his wife and some issues with his memory, but otherwise living a reasonably happy life. Tim has been offered an audition for a small part in a very decent, upcoming film and he’s nervous about going to it. In five distinct scenes Horton, played by Rodger Hayward-Smith, converses with his brother to whom he is close, his twin daughters and his young neighbour who invites him to dinner and the prospect of friendship across the generations. The play takes us through the usual themes of how the generations interact (quite positively in some cases) and how families function, or don’t, particularly when faced with an ageing parent. One of Tim’s daughters urges him to remove his late wife’s clothes from the house, something he cannot do, and a small row follows. This rift is eventually repaired with help from the other daughter. Tim’s family is in fact a happy and supportive one, (which does of course reduce the potential for drama).

Blast2

The play itself is efficiently constructed and progresses steadily through its five stages, broken by an interval, and reaches a satisfying, if slightly hackneyed, conclusion. Its strengths are in the accessibility of its subject matter – it seems everyone in the developed world is seeking comfort and help with ageing – and the gentle, generally positive way in which the story is told.

Blast from the Past does need a boost of dramatic adrenalin though. The five scenes are long and whilst the dialogue is natural and on the whole believable, there is a great deal of it and at times this felt like listening to people actually making small talk. The first scene between Horton and his brother is particularly lengthy and would benefit from paring back. Given that each scene consists of people talking to each other, what is on view is mainly static: people sit down with each other and pretty much stay there, a little movement would be good, or else this becomes a radio play. Tightening the dialogue would also show off the vein of humour running through the work and it would be good to bring this rather more to the fore. There is for example a ‘running gag’ about pears, and whilst this shouldn’t be overdone it could be extended a little, I only noticed it twice. Blast from the Past clearly isn’t meant to be a laugh-a-minute-comedy, nor do I think it should be one, but even so a little humour tends to increase audience concentration.

Blast4Accompanying Blast from the Past was a second, short sketch rather than a play, (it’s about ten minutes long) entitled Stage Door Blues. This involved a couple waiting at the stage door for one of the actors from the first play. It’s cold and they are sniping at each other but there is a little plot twist to entertain the audience and this worked reasonably well on Tuesday evening. Whether the entirely clichéd 1950s-style Actor character, complete with camel coat draped around his shoulders, was deliberately written, directed, or just misguided remains to be seen but it reduced the comedy somewhat, there was enough in the writing, the costume was overkill.

Tuesday night’s performance was a rehearsed reading rather than a performance so the fact that there is scope for change, improvement and finessing goes without saying. That said, there were costumes, props and scenery, semi-staging in fact, and Barnes Community Players rendered their roles effectively, giving life to the script while reading from files. Rodger Hayward Smith particularly deserves credit for being on stage most of the time and giving an endearing performance as Tim Horton. All in all, Blast from the Past with some tweaking and tightening could well make another dramatic source of reassurance for families and individuals trying to deal with the last phase of life as we know it.

Eleanor Lewis
January 2020

Photography by Courtney Everett

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