views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The We Plays
The Hope Theatre
29th September 2016


John Seaward as Me

Photography provided by Morgan Fraser PR

What's the longest you've ever waited for the curtain to go back up? 20 minutes? Half an hour? A bit longer? Well, at two years, the interval between The Me Plays and The We Plays has got to be a record breaker. Having watched Andrew Maddock tell some of his own stories in Junkie and Hi Life, I Win, he's back with two new protagonists in Cyprus Sunset and Irn Pru. As soon as the very first line of dialogue is uttered, something timey wimey happens and we haven't been waiting that long after all. Maddock is nowhere to be seen this time round, letting two other actors give a voice to his writing, but you can't miss his very distinctive style.

After dancing like a madman as the audience filter into the room, it's entirely predictable that Me (John Seaward) sinks onto the floor when the cue is given to start the show proper. However this isn't a play that unfolds as you might expect; the minimalist staging proves to be full of surprises, as does his monologue. The stage is pared back to a very small podium with director Phil Croft embracing the intimacy of the space and somehow turning a simple suitcase and curtain into so much more. Croft's interpretation of Maddock's work is bold, poignant and above all entrancing. We find ourselves hooked on Me's storytelling, laughing at his guilty pleasures and empathising with his difficult moments. This isn't any ordinary holiday tale, with Seaward taking us though a whole range of emotions.

Taking a step back, Cyprus Sunsets is probably the cleverer of the two, however companion piece Irn Pru really tickled me. Unconscious bias declared: I'm a girl who grew up in Scotland. I was always going to identify more with the angry female protagonist in a kilt. By balancing the genders in The We Plays, Maddock's odds of getting his audience to be drawn to at least one play are fairly good. Although Irn Pru doesn't feel as instinctively Maddock's work, once you get over the shock of such a thick Scottish brogue being penned by a man with an impeccable and wonderfully poetic command of the English language, you can hear his unique style throughout. This piece puts feisty take-no-prisoners Weedgie lass Pru (Jennifer O'Neill) in the spotlight, as she tries to convince us of her strong work ethic and relays anecdotes about a brutal job search, all whilst wearing a Viking hat and sipping an Irn Bu. Whilst it may sound gimmicky and contrived, the execution is wildly funny.

Jennifer O'Neill as Pru

Photography provided by Morgan Fraser PR

Pru finds it harder than Me to admit what's really upsetting her and we find ourselves seeking meaning in her increasing repetition. As she describes herself as a goddess over and over again, angrily and yet plaintively referring to her Glasgow, we know there's been an injustice of some kind in the city Pru considers to be her sanctuary, but it takes longer for her to tell us any more than that. In a further attempt to distance us from her emotional pain, she's made to look like some kind of caricature with her outfit - honestly, the only thing that could make her seem more ridiculous is a fancy dress Tam O' Shanter with an orange wig sewn into the cap. Director Ashley Winter tries very hard to stop us from empathising with Pru, presumably to make us feel downright sheepish when we don't give her the empathy we later realise she deserves.

The two monologues are loosely linked by the characters' bolshie to the point of almost unlikeable demeanours and yet hidden depths. Me makes fun of his fellow holidaymakers, gloating over his more expensive package and looking down on them. Pru lounges around lazily on a throne before getting up and introducing herself with a confident swagger and snarl. Yet they are both hiding painful tragedies which are teased out over the course of their respective monologues and which round them out. We soon see the cockiness as nothing more than walls put up to protect them. The two plays do hang together well, however they could very easily stand on their own.

Although The Me Plays may have been all about the playwright, The We Plays certainly has more to offer us. Maddock's writing is intelligent, insightful and beautiful.

The We Plays opens on 27th September and runs until 15th October 2016 at the Hope Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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