It’s unusual for the public to able to see new writing in its development, but the Old Fire Station Theatre has found a way to do just that with a periodic ‘scratch night’, where local playwrights and actors come along to showcase work in its early stages. This makes the night somewhat difficult to review, as the event itself was set up as a friendly feedback session for work that needed progress; after each performance, we were invited to discuss the piece and offer constructive criticism. However, despite the fact that the nature of the scratch night meant that the pieces needed a great deal of improvement and polishing, we were treated to a fascinating insight into some nascent scripts.
On this particular scratch night, we saw two very different scripts. The first was a humorous monologue by Adam Potterton exploiting the format of a vicar delivering church notices to include off-the-wall jokes. Some of these had a Python-esque quality, especially the rebranding of communion for a younger congregation as ‘bread-and-red’ (@bread&red), and the insistence that the original response “thanks be to God” was “thanks Peter God”, hence that God has a first name. Unfortunately many of the jokes fell a little flat, mostly because too much of the script was given over to establishing the format of a church meeting, leaving a bland impression. The script was intended as one of a series of monologues for radio about various personalities living in an Irish village; the northern accent that Potterton added to his performance was therefore a little bewildering, although he assured us it was intentional. However, overall, he managed to rouse a few genuine laughs, and for a script in its early stages that had not been rehearsed, this was no mean feat.
The second performance was The Croydon Casanova, ‘part of a quartet of linked pieces exploring the themes of disconnection and alienation within the context of 21st century relationships’, written by Jeremy Allen. We saw two sides of a story about an intensely unsatisfying relationship between Paul, the aforementioned Croydon Casanova, who has an arrogant and self-satisfied approach to his lover, and Alex, the woman who appears only to be able to see glasses as half-empty. Again, this roused some laughs, and also achieved an intimate air. However, with the lines switching between the two actors with almost every sentence, the piece lacked coherence, and the distinctions made between the two were heavy-handed as a result. In the discussion afterwards there was an agreement that the characters lacked depth.
My main fault with both pieces was that they tended towards stereotype – the amusing vicar and the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ tropes have already been done to death, and neither of these pieces had anything particularly new to offer. However, as a performance of scripts in their early stages I thought both had enough solid, interesting and occasionally genuinely amusing foundations for some hopefully exciting work in the future.
The Theatre Scratch Night is held regularly at the Old Fire Station. To sign up to perform or to book tickets for the next show, check out the OFS website: www.oldfirestation.info