By Acacia To
To kick off Durham Drama Festival (DDF), Scratch Night begins as an opportunity for pieces of student-written work to be showcased. It featured four different short plays; Tidal Waves by Eliza Jones, Where the Sea is Pink by Isabelle Bull and I Don’t by Jenny Pavitt, followed by Elephant Boy with a Shoe on Top by Charlie Nicholson and Owen Kennedy after the interval.
Tidal Waves starts the night off with a simple, empty stage with nothing except for the two characters, Alice (Molly Goetzee) and Helen (Sophie Alibert). Despite having a minimalist tech and stage set-up, the actresses’ expressive faces and fast-paced dialogue were able to capture the audience’s attention extremely well. The two girls in the piece start off by saying how they cannot be separated, not even by tidal waves, but as they grow older Helen seems to think they are growing apart while Alice is still living in denial about it. Jones tells a story that is likely experienced by most of us: as we grow older and enter university, some old friends are seemingly left behind, yet never forgotten. While the ending dragged on a little bit, this piece ends with a heart – warming agreement that even though the two girls might grow apart, their friendship will still maintain.
Refreshing, unique and captivating
Tidal Waves is followed by Isabelle Bull’s Where the Sea is Pink. Bull sets the scene in a book club, where we are first introduced to the four characters, including a middle-aged librarian who is questioning her marriage and sexuality (played by Maniha Khan) and a twenty-nine-year-old man who considers his asexuality and how that goes against what ‘being a man’ means (played by Rex Appeal). The high-quality acting is combined with the witty dialogues to create an enjoyable experience. While the metaphor the pink sea represents might be a bit lost, Where the Sea is Pink tells of relationships and personal struggles that do not fit into society’s heteronormative narrative in a refreshing, unique and captivating way.
The third piece of writing is I Don’t by Jenny Pavitt, a complex picture of familial relationships surrounding a woman, played by Esther Gilmore, on the brink of marriage. As an adult she reminisces about her relationship with her father (Ben Willows) and absentee mother, in flashbacks of her childhood. The piece ends with a monologue by the daughter’s younger self (Eleanor Storey) about what love meant, which feels a little contrived. While I Don’t is consistent throughout in terms of acting and writing, the ending is a bit forced and it would have been better without the final monologue over-explaining how love does not come in an expected way.
The four pieces were brought together almost seamlessly
The final piece of the evening is The Elephant Boy with a Shoe on Top by Charlie Nicholson and Owen Kennedy. It is the piece with the largest number of actors, most elaborate set and even has its own on-stage orchestra, which is why the result was even more disappointing. While the actors do poke fun at the fact that the show is not meant to be taken seriously, it does feel little more than a joke generated by the computer (a joke made at the beginning of the piece). The tech and the staging do not seem well rehearsed, and in one scene the lights were not even on. The on-stage musicians serve little purpose other than one single joke and some (likely intentional, but unclear why) off-key transition music. The actors randomly break into songs or dance sequences, but this also made little sense in terms of storytelling (the story being an old man who loves meatballs being murdered). While this piece was probably intended as a light – hearted ad lib, and the actors are to be applauded for not laughing and breaking characters, it just seemed a bit too unprofessional in comparison to the other pieces of the night. While the piece was hilarious at some point, twenty minutes just seemed too long for the low-level humour.
Nevertheless, the four pieces were brought together almost seamlessly, with very little transition time, which is impressive. The overall night was an enjoyable experience and is definitely a great start to the Durham Drama Festival.