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Posts Tagged ‘Phil in Space’

Playwright Tom Wells has written two of my favourite plays of the last 10 years, The Kitchen Sink & Jumpers for Goalposts, plus two other ‘miniature’ gems, Phil in Space & Drip. He specialises in warm, feel-good, funny stories with ordinary but well developed characters, anchored in communities he knows very well. This new work trades uproarious humour for gentle poignancy. It’s set near a bird sanctuary on the Yorkshire coast over several years. The four characters are linked by a number of things, notably grief and loss.

Lauren works in a cafe near the bird sanctuary. She’s lost her mum, whose best friend Angie runs the cafe. Her widowed dad Dennis is a frequent visitor. He’s jealous of Neil, who runs the bird sanctuary, for no obvious reason. Lauren has moved out of home and Dennis has put her room on Airbnb. His first tenant is Ed from Birmingham, who’s come for an interview at the bird sanctuary. He’s lost his mum too. It’s the end of the season and the cafe is closing to make way for a new one at the Discovery Centre.

We move forward to future seasons, with Ed now employed at the bird sanctuary and the cafe inexplicably still open. Ed & Lauren become an item, then Lauren becomes pregnant. We learn of Angie’s loss and realise they are all united in grief. Dennis clearly has feelings for Angie but is unable to do anything about them. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but in 90 minutes Wells’ creates characters you can’t help liking and caring about. It oozes authenticity and has bucketloads of charm, underpinned by the sadness that pervades the characters’ grief. Director Tessa Walker adds a Shakespeare style music and dance coda which provides an uplifting ending.

All four performances are beautifully drawn. Jessica Jolleys’ Lauren has a no-nonsense attitude and a steely independence about her. Sam Newton gives Ed a combination of naivety and nerdiness, socially clumsy. With Dennis it’s what he doesn’t say that matters and Matt Sutton’s performance is perfectly understated. Jennifer Daley invests Angie with a gentleness and the sadness of someone who has never, and never will, fully recover from her loss. Bob Bailey’s uber realistic design has the audience sitting on two sides, peering into the café as if from outside its windows, as voyeurs.

A lovely play that deserves to be seen by so many more than the 30 or so Hampstead Downstairs can accommodate socially distanced.

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Who’d have thought you could say so much in a 15 minute play. Multiply that by five and you’ve got a theatrical feast. Put them in normally unseen spaces all around the building for groups of less than ten and it adds another layer of fascination and a great deal of intimacy. This was a genuine treat.

You split into five groups and each group sees the plays in a different sequence. The first play my group saw took place in a dressing room with a balcony (now we know where the actors go for a fag!). Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Anhedonia is an intense story of a woman who has experienced sexual abuse and the actions she takes to hide it. The unusual union is a builder where she works, whose intuitively knows anyway. Rona Morison was compelling as Girl.

The Golden Hours by Frances Ya-Chu Cowing was set in a meeting room with extraordinary views of London’s rooftops, now a room where Shinger & June’s mother is laid to rest before her funeral, which was the subject of the brother & sister’s exchanges. Sarah Lam’s real tears at close quarter made this a deeply moving experience.

To a stairwell for Rachel De-Lehay’s My Twin, a captivating monologue by Sarah Ridgeway telling us her experiences of being the slightly younger twin. This was funny and touching in equal measure and felt like a one-to-one conversation.

Down underneath the stage in a workshop Phil, brilliantly performed by Alan Williams, tells us about his project to build a rocket in the garage where he works while the boss is away and his unusual union with the off-stage Helen who he meets at a slimming club and allows to rehearse in the garage for her Bowie tribute performance. Tom Wells’ Phil in Space is a quirky little comic gem which I didn’t want to end.

We ended with fighting and tension beneath the stage as two brothers, one in the army and the other in CND, discuss the evolution and history of their relationship. Appropriately called Bruises, Keiran Hurley’s play was superbly performed with great tension by Richard Rankin and Brian Ferguson.

I found it astonishing that you could get five very different plays of such quality, and such committed performances, that are only going to be seen by less than 150 people. Should it return, you should be queuing for tickets. Wonderful.

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