Tatchell and Shortstuff
Four shows are playing in rotation in this month-long season entitled 'Wet Rep'. The plays I saw were 'Tatchell' by Jonathan Bonfiglio and 'ShortStuff' by Anna Jordan. To complicate matters a little further, the latter production is actually - as you might guess from it's title - three short plays: 'Closer To God', 'Coming Home' and 'Bed of Foxgloves'.
'Tatchell' is a tense two-hander, set on a rooftop in Oxford. Stephen (played by Luis Dominic) has just finished working on Peter Tatchell's election campaign when his estranged partner, Anna (played by Lucy Roslyn), 'coincidentally' finds herself in the same location. Drinking wine on the rooftop together the next day provides the chance to re-examine their relationship and their political affiliations. Like most of Jonathan Bonfiglio's writing, this is a challenging and intense drama. The play ranges over diverse themes such as heroes, memories and images, as well as politics and personal relationships. The language isn't quite as poetic as other plays by Mr Bonfiglio. The emphasis here seems to be on political philosophy and pragmatism, contrasted with the intimacy of a personal relationship which has, rather sadly, soured. Intellectually demanding though it is, the politics end up playing second fiddle to the sadness of the relationship, and I wonder if that was really the intention.
After the interval, the focus switches to comedy, at least initially. 'Closer to God' is a play about two neighbours inhabiting adjacent flats in a tower block. One is an old man who watches TV all day and sets considerable faith in tinned food, and the other is a young, single mum. They are both 'trapped in shoeboxes in the sky' and though their cultures and backgrounds couldn't be more different, an unlikely bond develops between them. Claire Cahill and Peter Gordon, make the most of their opportunities here, presenting a humorously compelling picture of neighbours in a run down tower block. First-rate performances combined with a witty and well-written script by Anna Jordan.
In the next play, 'Bed of Foxgloves', reporter Rob is interviewing Esme about her decision to bury her husband in her back garden. This extreme method of disposing of a loved-one has been brought about by the high cost of funerals and lack of funds. Esme is a down-to-earth type who presents the burial arrangement in a matter-of-fact manner as if one were disposing of household waste. In contrast to his homely Mum, Seth is an odd, angry kind of character and not without justification as we realise when we discover that Rob and his brother were at school with Seth. Excellent timing and believable characterisations make this a very funny play, at least initially. In spite of his odd appearance and unsociable, glum manner, Benjamin Francis's Seth ultimately wins our sympathy.
In the final piece we return to tense and poignant drama as two brothers meet after a period of separation. The elder of the two, Taz, is unable to walk because of a spinal injury and has just served a prison sentence for a hideous assault he committed while 'off his face on crack' - presumably defending his territory as a drug dealer. What Taz didn't know was that his younger brother witnessed the crime. Anna Jordan demonstrates her highly adaptable writing skills here, and Jai Rajani as Taz and Adrian Quinton as Solman, produce emotional and powerful performances.
Taken together, these plays form a well-balanced programme, with an interesting and invigorating mix of comedy and drama. Though 'Tatchell' has all the well-crafted hallmarks of Jonathan Bonfiglio's writing, the performances seemed a little hesitant, perhaps affected by some first-night nerves, and I found the intensity of the relationship only became fully realised towards the end. In contrast, the other plays seemed more polished and the cast more confident in their roles. With something for almost everyone in this programme, it's certainly worth a visit.