By Helena Snider
Voices by Olivia Ballantine-Smith
– “After a funeral, an artist tries to make sense of a world which has shattered around him. But then his friends decide to put in an appearance, and they are determined to drag him down with them.”
Voices started off with a sad-looking man lambasting himself for his inability to finish his painting. It soon transpires that he is grieving the death of his ex-boyfriend, Chris (Aaron Romanski), whose funeral he attended that morning. The start of the play felt somewhat clichéd. It asked the audience to extend sympathy to someone whom we knew nothing about. However, as the play progressed, the characterisation improved significantly. The ending was genuinely moving, with the characters really coming into their own. The cast were generally strong, in particular the lead, Calum Maclean, who carried the show. By the end of the excerpt I felt truly invested and wished there was more of the play to watch. Olivia Ballantine-Smith is a very gifted writer, with a real gift for pacing and structure especially.
Death as a Salesman by Uday Duggal
–”The supply of souls has been drying up. Death urgently needs to rebrand, and enlists the help of a marketing guru to make the whole dying business seem… a bit more palatable to the public. A dark comedy about life, death, and the weird space in between.”
I have never heard a Durham audience laugh in a play as much as they did in Death as a Salesman. The writing here was consistently original and funny. A tired and depressed but successful salesman, Tony (George Tarling), is contemplating suicide. He gets up onto his desk, with a rope, about to hang himself. Unfortunately he doesn’t know how: so he calls Siri up on his iPhone. Stan (Jake Hathaway), a man who Tony knows as Stanley from HR, introduces himself as Death. He explains his dilemma – that people are no longer dying at the rate they ought (owing to medicine, vaccinations, etc.) and thus need to be hurried up on their way. Jake Hathaway and George had excellent onstage chemistry, and elicited a number of laughs, as did Marcus Dell towards the very end.
Writing Left Handed by Nick Chapman
–”James is visiting his old school friend Alex at university; they leave a party in the small hours to stock up on alcohol and arrive in an off-licence. While they reminisce about their friendship and stumble on uncertain territory, they get interrupted – by a robber.”
Writing Left Handed was a confusing play to watch; it switched from what looked like a bank robbery scene to an emotional outpouring of an insular and mentally-ill Oxford graduate. The transition from a woman being held at gun-point, to an emotional outpouring, was neither logical or seamless. That being said, some of the lines were deeply moving and the acting was good, particularly Lucas Walker and Lizzie Strachan, who seemed most comfortable on stage.
An Unexpected Reunion by Charles Pipe
–”We all know it’s awkward bumping into an old acquaintance. But it’s even more awkward when he’s come to collect money from you on behalf of a notorious gangster! This is exactly what happens to Ed, but will his fear of a beat-down override his duties as a host?”
An Unexpected Reunion started amusingly – with the lead (Rory McKinley) – stripping down to just his underwear onstage. Rory and Mark Lloyd did the best they could with limited material. There was little discernable plot, and I felt that I did not know the characters any better by the end than I had at the start. The dialogue felt stilted at times and rushed at others, although the actors did have high levels of charisma. The writing was promising but would have perhaps been improved by more thought put into character motivation and an overall clearer structure.
Photograph: DDF Production Team