The two pieces that make up Andrew Maddock’s The We Plays tell quite different stories. In one, a young tourist desperately chases the perfect Cyprus sunset, despite the best efforts of the airline, the weather and the annoying family next door to foil him. In the other, a feisty Scottish redhead takes on the Glasgow job market armed with her well-written CV, several gallons of Irn Bru and… a Viking helmet (obviously).
Different stories they may be, staged by different directors (Phil Croft and Ashley Winter respectively), but these two monologues have a common trajectory: they both creep up on us, drawing us into the characters’ lives and experiences, and making us laugh with their spot-on observations about their fellow human beings. And then each suddenly takes a dark and disorienting turn, so that before we know it we’re hearing quite a different story than the one we expected.
Now, I must admit I’ve seen the first piece, Cyprus Sunsets, before, so I wasn’t as taken aback this time by the twist in the tale – but that didn’t ruin it for me. In a way, knowing what’s coming actually makes the piece more powerful; there are hints scattered throughout that give the words new significance, and force us to consider how what’s really happening could have gone unnoticed for so long. And John Seaward’s performance as frustrated tourist Me is certainly no less mesmerising, entertaining or emotionally shattering second time around. To hold a roomful of people spellbound for 50 minutes whilst armed only with a suitcase and a pair of sunglasses is no mean feat, yet Seaward commands our attention with ease.
Irn Pru is, on the surface, the funnier of the two (although Cyprus Sunsets‘ biting commentary on the horror that is Brits abroad shouldn’t go unmentioned). Jennifer O’Neill swaggers around the stage, unafraid to stare down – and at one point openly rebuke – audience members, as Pru channels the voice of her idol Michelle Mone (of bra fame) and demands that we line up to pay our respects. But there’s a softer side to the character, which first comes across in her evident love for her country; “my Glasgow, my Scotland” is a frequent tender refrain, and we’ve fallen for Pru long before we learn the devastating secret that turns out to be the real point of the story.
Andrew Maddock’s rhyming verse is surprisingly easy on the ear, laced with fun surprises (I particularly enjoyed “trapped in / this crap tin”) and a regular return to key words and passages of the text, which gradually gain new meaning as we learn more about the characters. And as hard-hitting as both pieces undoubtedly are, exploring with unflinching honesty some troubling and hugely relevant topics, there’s an element of hope to each. This means the audience walks out feeling, yes, a bit emotionally battered, but still far from defeated by what we’ve seen. Life does go on, after all, and – like Maddock’s characters – we have to go on with it.
Powerful writing, captivating performances and creative staging (who knew there were so many uses for a suitcase?) make The We Plays a must see double bill.
The We Plays is at The Hope Theatre until 15th October.