25. Halter-Neck by Paul Muldoon (Lamentations) *
“So many will see this as my complete submission
To one to whom I’m already in thrall
Under whose spell I’ll sip cosmopolitans
Vinegar-sponges, wormwood and gall.”
I had not realised that Arthur Darvill had such authentic Indie credentials, though after watching him rock out on a lute at the Globe earlier in the summer I was not surprised to see that he was a skilful handler of the guitar. Beautifully voiced, soulful, lyrical and slightly dishevelled it was a bit hard not to fall in love. And the song itself managed to be interesting, lyrically surprising and rich with emotion. One of my favourites of the 66 performances (tripping over on the way in included). I’d love to be able to buy MP3s of this and some of the other music (or, actually, performances) that appeared during the day.
26. The Fair & Tender by Owen Sheers (Ezekiel)
“JERUSALEM: Beauty. You have a problem with beauty. You create it. Oh, that’s what you do. No one has an eye for it like you. But then you hate what it brings with it. You want its light, but not the shadow it throws. You want all to admire it, but only you to have it.
THE LORD: The shadow?
JERUSALEM: Inside you. Some would call it jealousy, but it’s darker than that isn’t it? You call us whores. Perhaps we are now, but we weren’t then. We were just young women who took lovers. Who wanted to explore the world they’d been given, to make our own way in it. It was you who placed us among them, those captains, those rulers. It was you who pressed those jewels to our heads, parading your works for all to admire. What did you think would happen?”
I really loved the idea behind this and thought it was handled exceptionally well. Sheers had re-imagined the cities of Jerusalem, Samaria and Sodom (possibly, the story fashions it as S’Dam and I may be missing something obvious) as something akin to Victorian prostitutes, fallen ladies, but still proud and angry. The play itself focuses on a visit from “The Lord” and a chance for them to confront and challenge him. Wonderful idea and all four performances (Abby Ford, Katie McGuinness, Bettrys Jones and Sean Chapman) were excellent, brimming with the passion that had been missing from some of the earlier plays for me. Plus it ended beautifully atmospherically with the song Fair & Tender Ladies, which has been stuck in my head for days.
27. Oliver Lewis by Jack Thorne (Daniel)*
“ANN: Right. Counting what?
STEVE: How often – the phone – rings.
ANN: That must be fascinating. How interested are they in my wife? How many times will they ring? Are you going to do a barchart later...
STEVE: The trouble is as soon as you say something to one of them, the other one tries to denigrate you as much as possible.
ANN: ‘The father who lost a daughter but gained a murderer’.”
In some ways I’m not sure if this should have a star next to it, I liked the writing and the ideas of the other pieces more but Miranda Raison and Dominic Mafham were both so superb this was utterly engrossing. They are both so likable that the depth of their hurt and how broken their relationship was felt instantly personal. Plus they managed to convey so much in the tiniest gestures and glances that it was magical to watch, painful, but magic too.
28. Fugitive Motel by Nick Payne (Hosea)
“HARRY: I’ve felt a bit like a teenager all evening.
JANE: Weird, isn’t it?
HARRY: This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever done. I mean it’s probably the best – I mean it’s probably the most exciting thing that I have ever literally done. But it’s definitely the worst too.
JANE: We haven’t really done anything.
HARRY: No. But.”
After the last three pieces, it was probably about time that we had something a bit lighter and thankfully Fugitive Motel provided. Rafe Spall and Michelle Terry managed to make the audience laugh before they’d even said anything and from then onwards it only got funnier. Both were superb and had fantastic chemistry, I’d gladly see them play a couple forever more. Even better the piece also managed to feel emotionally true, delicately and heartbreaking at the end. Really beautiful writing, very natural, with Payne’s style reminding me a little of Nina Raine (high praise in my book).
29. I Notice The Sound First by Yemisi Blake (Joel)
“ 'Sound the alarm on the holy mountain!
It is the day of darkness and doom!’
screams the Jesus man outside Oxford Circus Underground Station.
His megaphone voice stands clear above the traffic
spluttering city smog onto the pavements.
It’s the fist thing the boys and me hear after getting off the train, it sends us into a fit of laughter.”
Another short, sharp piece, over almost as quickly as it started, though the images lingered and I enjoyed Amit Shah’s youthful and effective performance. I also hadn’t realised quite how much I associate Shah with Christmas, though that one’s a bit more difficult to explain.
30. Amos The Shepherd Curses The Rulers Of Ancient Israel by Michael Rosen (Amos)
“You dare to think that the instruments you sing to
Are playing the music of David
You who do not feel the pain and sorrow
Of destroying the word of Joseph.”
Though after it had finished I felt a little lost to explain what this was about or what it had said, this piece left me with a series of really striking images and moments. The whir of the fan in the background, the slant of light across the stage and Harold Finley, both masculine and feminine, full of fury and grief and raw emotion. It was very powerful.
31. The House Next Door by Nancy Harris (Obadiah)
“ESTHER: All babies cry.
RUTH: Yeah but for some mums it’s like a person scrawling nails down a blackboard. It gets under their skin and into their heads and sends them fucking loopy.
ESTHER: Don’t say fucking.
ESTHER: Mum said you’re not to say fucking.”
I cannot begin to express how much I love seeing swings on stage (offstage too, swings are still far more fun than I can imagine possible). What I really ended up loving though was the unromantic view of childhood this presented, something Mariah Gale is superb as, she always manages to make youth both free and attractive and ugly and awkward and certain all at once. And here she is well matched by Louise Brealey. Plus the creeping horror of the power of rumour and the chill of the Bible quotation at the end was awesome.
32. Cetecean by Nick Laird (Jonah)
“From the first word it was obvious
I was dealing with a maniac. A deomaniac
ego-, mono-, megalomaniac. No quarter asked
nor none received and he lurked in the air;
the granary; the tavern; beneath the cedar trees”
Cetecean started, unusually, with Robin Pearce walking around the edge of the auditorium behind the audience, before emerging dripping with water. It was an interesting approach but not entirely effective as it meant I missed some of the early dialogue. However, once Pearce reached the stage there was some really excellent writing. I’d never really connected the Jonah story with the idea of the protective presence of religious faith – the whale as religion or god – something that Jonah is lost inside and protected by and part of, something grander and vaster than himself. I particularly loved the description of the whale song as a reassuring (if eventually monotonous) presence.
33. Flare by Adam Foulds (Micah) *
“It occurred to me that really the ideal play about Micah would be unstageable. I pictured the second half beginning with Micah destroying the theatre and the surrounding city, probably with fire. Then in the cleared, smouldering space, he and the audience would farm together for years. The audience would be so engrossed in their hard, productive labour, their natural piety, the rhythm of days, the seasons studded with festivals, that they wouldn’t remember the lives they left behind or notice when Micah disappears.”
I LOVED this. The lovely Hattie Morahan coming out in the guise of the producer to cancel the play, for not quite understanding the Book of Micah and then proceeded to paint the most vivid, passionate, fascinating portrait of the prophet. It glowed. Plus it wooed me with it’s idealisation of farming.