Review: Voices From Home at The Old Red Lion

The inaugural Voices From Home event from Brighton-based Broken Silence Theatre brought together writers from the Home Counties and beyond to showcase new work from outside the capital. Four thought-provoking short plays all started from the theme of “trust” before heading off in a variety of directions to bring us an evening populated by outspoken refugees, dodgy psychics, estranged sisters and reluctant lovers.

The latter feature in Love Me Tinder, written by James McDermott from Norfolk and directed by Roman Berry. Emma Zadow and Mauricia Lewis prove that opposites do (eventually) attract, as spiky Tina and sweet-natured Ellie cautiously embark on a Tinder-based romance beset by false starts and misunderstandings. It’s a funny and very relatable piece about the many ways we self-sabotage whilst dating out of fear of getting hurt, but it also explores the unexpected and touching ways in which new love can change us for the better.

There’s a similar blend of laugh out loud humour and human vulnerability in Danielle Pearson’s The History Club, set in the writer’s home county of Berkshire, which examines how grief can make us do extraordinary things. In this case, three women engage the services of a less than convincing psychic to put them in touch with their lost loved ones. Directed by Jennifer Davis, the play sees Vicky Winning clearly enjoying herself as Florence, with moving performances from Anne Rosenfeld, Helen Belbin, and particularly Dominique Moutia as a teenager struggling to come to terms with the death of a schoolfriend.

The heartbreaking Trust, written by Sussex-based Ella Dorman-Gajic and directed by Raymond Waring, shows us the awkward reunion of two sisters, played by Alex Reynolds and Abbi Douetil. From a close childhood relationship, marked by a shared love of S Club 7 and a wall chart plotting their heights over the years, Sarah and Lotty become increasingly estranged as their gran’s health deteriorates. It becomes obvious that she effectively raised them in their mum’s frequent absence, and the play ends on a hesitatingly uplifting note as the two attempt to build bridges and come to terms with their loss.

Each Voices From Home event will also feature a Headline Playwright; the first of these is Sevan K. Greene, whose play Asylum – directed by Tim Cook – opened the evening with an alternative and eye-opening view on the first world response to refugees. Lynn (Rosalind Adler) has got an empty house and a kind heart, but never really expected to be taken up on her offer of taking in a Syrian refugee – and when Mohammed (James Hameed) is sprung on her by his caseworker Mike (Matt Kyle), he’s not quite as gushingly grateful as she’d expected. As with all the other plays, Asylum offers lots of laughs, but they grow increasingly uncomfortable as the piece goes on, and we’re forced to examine our own motives, assumptions and reactions to those less fortunate than ourselves.

With so much theatre going on in London every day, it’s easy to forget that there’s plenty to enjoy elsewhere too. Voices From Home co-producers Tim Cook and Katharina Rodda have assembled a strong line-up for their first showcase, bringing a little piece of the Home Counties into the capital and proving to any sceptics out there that good theatre can and does exist outside the M25. Here’s hoping we don’t have too long to wait for the next evening; I’m looking forward to seeing what my home county of Kent has to offer…

For more details about Voices From Home and Broken Silence Theatre, visit brokensilencetheatre.com.

Review: Tremors at the King’s Head Theatre

You do have to wonder sometimes what makes people go into politics. Despite certain obvious benefits, it seems often a very thankless career, exposing you to public scorn, ridicule and disdain the minute you mess up or show the slightest sign of weakness. Because of the nature of the job, politicians become public property – and the public has the power to make or break them on a whim.

This is the very predicament in which Tom Crowe, the Labour MP at the centre of Tim Cook’s new play Tremors, finds himself. After a private encounter in a hotel room with a senior party member goes viral, he takes the advice of his PR advisor Lisa and flees to Eastbourne. But his hometown is in chaos, with riots and vandalism led by anti-austerity activists threatening to tear the town apart – and a dark secret from Tom’s past that could derail the attempt to salvage his future.

Though written a few years ago, by chance the staging of Tremors by Broken Silence Theatre has fallen during one of the most extraordinary eras that many of us can remember in British politics. It’s an indication of how disillusioned and suspicious we’ve become – not really a surprise after watching our politicians routinely turn on each other over recent months – that a character like Tom, who genuinely just wants to help people, seems entirely too good to be true. Even so, William Vasey gives a believable performance, managing to convey both the wide-eyed idealist, who followed his heart into politics, and the ambitious social climber, whose accent these days is more Oxford than Eastbourne.

Tom’s one of four characters who never get fully developed, despite good performances from the cast. Much like in politics, each of them comes to represent a particular ideology, which overrides their individual personalities, and consequently we never really get to know them as the 60-minute play unfolds. At the opposite end of the scale from Tom is his old friend Chris (Tim Cook), who has the same passion to make the world better, but very different ideas on how to achieve it. And then there are the women: Lisa (Vicky Winning), a hard-nosed ice queen who doesn’t do feelings, remorse or indeed anything that might get in the way of her own career interests. Her opposite number is Marie (Cerys Knighton), Chris’ sister; her activism days are firmly behind her, and now all she cares about is finding her brother before he does something stupid.

There’s a lot going on for such a short piece, and some of the plot threads at times become a little tangled – Tom’s career crisis and concealed homosexuality, the decline of his coastal hometown, Chris’ struggles to come to terms with his past or the country’s future, and the revelation of the secret that binds the three old friends together. And despite some helpful BBC News announcements, the timeline of the play isn’t always entirely clear; some early flashback scenes only really make sense in the closing minutes.

Though not without some issues, Tremors is an interesting premise and definitely has potential for development into a longer play examining the issues in greater detail. What connects all the various plot threads is a simmering anger over the growing distance between we the people and those who put themselves forward to represent us – which is something I think most of us can identify with. Judging by recent events, that’s not an issue that seems likely to go away any time soon, so here’s hoping Tremors will return to shake things up in the future.

Tremors is at the King’s Head Theatre on 2nd and 3rd July.

Interview: Tim Cook, Tremors

With politics on everyone’s mind in the run-up to the general election, Broken Silence Theatre’s new play Tremors, about a disgraced MP, could hardly be more timely. Written by the company’s Artistic Director, and award-winning playwright, Tim Cook, the play receives its world premiere at London’s King’s Head Theatre later this month.

Tremors is set in a modern day dystopian Britain where arson and rioting are rife,” explains Tim. “The plot revolves around a rising star of the Labour Party, a young MP called Tom Crowe, who is involved in a scandal in a hotel room. In an attempt to rebuild his image he travels back to his seaside hometown of Eastbourne to make amends. But he finds himself caught between saving either the community, which is very close to breaking point, or his career.”

Although the timing of the production – just a couple of weeks after the election – may appear deliberate, in fact the play’s been in development for some time. “I actually wrote the first draft of this play over six years ago,” says Tim. “Then I came to rewrite it for a rehearsed reading at the Old Red Lion Theatre last November. It’s strange, but I didn’t have to rewrite the play for 2017 as much as I thought I would. Although a lot has happened in the world of politics in the last six years, I feel like nothing has changed at the same time. Having said that, everything that’s happened has definitely influenced the direction of this production.

“First and foremost I want the audience to enjoy the show, but I also hope each audience member goes away and thinks about their own relationship to politics. Tremors isn’t a play that sides with any particular political party – that’s not the point. It’s a character-driven interrogation of modern politics, from the point of view of a young idealistic MP. It’s asking the question whether we should demand more from those in positions of power.” 

Tim’s inspiration for Tremors came from researching news stories, particularly those about politicians and protest groups. “It’s not based on any specific politician, but I wanted to absorb lots of stories and lots of information and then go off and create a character that embodies everything good and bad about modern politics. On the one hand he’s a saviour, on the other hand he’s a villain. It depends on which side of the fence you sit. In the world of the play he’s seen as one of the only MPs left in the country with a conscience. You see him wrestling with a moral dilemma in the play – that probably comes from my own desire to see a politician who really cares. I also wanted to represent Eastbourne on stage, having grown up there myself. Location plays a huge part in the tone of the play. The seaside. The pier. All that stuff. There’s something unique and strangely isolating about growing up in a British seaside town.”

Tim’s excited to be returning to the King’s Head, which holds special memories for him: “It feels great. The King’s Head have always been very supportive of Broken Silence and my work as a playwright. My play Crushed, about the 2010 London student protests, transferred to the King’s Head after winning the Best New Play Award at Brighton Fringe in 2015. Tremors, in many ways, feels like an indirect sequel to Crushed, so it’s brilliant to come back two years later and premiere the show at the same theatre. The King’s Head are really bold with their programming too – it’s great to play alongside so many other fantastic shows this summer.”

Most of the Tremors cast worked together on Broken Silence’s Necessity, which transferred to the Bread & Roses Theatre from Brighton earlier this year. “We’re lucky to have an exceptional company for this production, including Broken Silence Associate Artist Cerys Knighton and East 15 graduate Vicky Winning,” says Tim. “William Vasey joined the cast for our reading at the Old Red Lion, and plays the lead role of Tom Crowe. He absolutely has the presence of an early career MP – a sort of Blair/Cameron hybrid – and I think his performance in the play is remarkable.

“Paul Macauley, writer and director of Necessity, also returns to direct Tremors. I love working with Paul – we’ve worked together for four years now – he’s a great director of actors. I really value our team, because I think building long-term relationships in the industry is very important.”

Tim founded Broken Silence Theatre in 2013, after graduating from RADA. “We’re based in Brighton and exclusively produce new writing,” he explains. “We care about promoting unheard voices and creating work that is urgent and vital. We also place a specific focus on the quality of the writing and performances; that’s what our aesthetic is based on. We’ve managed to produce work on a very regular basis – Tremors will be our twelfth full production in four years – and each production has grown in terms of scale and quality. We want to continue that over the next few years and work with as many new writers as possible.

“And we’ve got lots coming up this year. In August we’ve got another new show – yet to be announced – coming to the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, which I’m really excited about. We’re also planning a brand new London showcase for regional writers, helping playwrights from outside London bring their work to the capital. On top of that we’ve also been workshopping two other plays, which we hope to premiere over the next twelve or so months. So it’s going to be a really exciting year for us!”

Tremors is at the King’s Head Theatre on 25th-26th June and 2nd-3rd July.

Review: Necessity at the Bread and Roses

Brighton-based Broken Silence Theatre bring their latest production, Necessity, to Clapham’s Bread and Roses following a sell-out run at last year’s Brighton Fringe. Inspired by a real event, Paul Macauley’s play tells the story of Patrick and Mish, a young couple faced with an impossible decision when a letter intended for their next door neighbour is delivered to their flat in error. Their ensuing struggle to decide what to do with its potentially explosive contents, whilst carefully observing – and judging – their neighbours’ troubled marriage, reveals hidden tensions in their own relationship that they might have preferred to keep buried.

This suburban drama is quietly intense, with a few surprises along the way and a twist ending that simultaneously brings the story back to where it started and leaves us dangling off a cliff. It’s a story about appearance versus reality – both couples are doing what they think society expects of them: buy a house; get a job; have a family. But it turns out doing what’s expected isn’t always the secret to happiness, and both relationships bear cracks hidden only just beneath the surface, waiting to be uncovered by something as seemingly innocuous as a letter.

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The characters are complex and surprising; there’s nothing predictable about this play. Alex Reynolds makes a brief but memorable appearance as the letter-writer, a vital role that lights the touch paper and leaves it to burn. Will Anderson, a new addition to the established cast as Stephen, captures the weary resignation of the henpecked husband – but our sympathetic view of him is marred by the early revelation of his secret past. And Vicky Winning is easy to hate as the stuck-up Veronika, although she too catches us off guard early on with a moment of kindness that doesn’t quite gel with the thoroughly nasty piece of work she ultimately turns out to be.

Mish and Patrick seem like a happy enough couple as they share relaxed, light-hearted banter after a long day – but it doesn’t take long for old tensions to resurface. Aspiring jewellery maker Mish wears her heart on her sleeve, and is easily the most likeable of the four main characters because of that; Cerys Knighton slips from joking around to anger to total heartbreak without hesitation. But perhaps the most intriguing performance comes from Tim Cook as Patrick, simply because it’s impossible to tell from one moment to the next if he’s a loving husband or a bit of a psycho. Or maybe both.

One little niggle: it was sometimes hard to keep track of the story’s timeframe. There’s a suggestion that the action’s taking place over a matter of weeks, but that’s hard to process when one minute the neighbours are enjoying a summer barbecue, wearing shades and complaining about the heat, and the next they’re wrapped up in jumpers and winter coats. It’s a small detail, but noticeable enough to be distracting (to me, anyway; these are the sorts of things I worry about).

Simply staged and sensitively written, Necessity is a play that touches several pressure points about modern life (career, family, class, the awkwardness of socialising with your neighbours) while still keeping us entertained and in suspense until the end. And while most of us will never find ourselves facing this particular scenario, the play nonetheless leaves its audience with plenty to think about.

Necessity is at the Bread and Roses until 4th February.