The Open Sessions – Bristol Old Vic


Scene Changes

Today’s show was composed of extracts from new plays collectively called Scene Changes. Each of the four pieces, all by a different writer, had a unique feel and flavour. The rough sketches, sometimes with script in hand, were brought vividly to life by director by Sita Calvert Ennals and a team of 6 actors.

The first play, Handful of Ribbons, paints the picture, via monologue, of a middle aged man looking back on his life. There an air of regret. As a hedonistic youth he spent long hours with his gay friend, with whom he now no longer wants contact. He reminisces on their days spent trying to get what they could out of life often at the expense of others. The picture is scripted well by writer (and performance artist), Tom Marshman, of an unfulfilled older man who wishes to escape the ‘dark cavern of the past’. There are ironies; once a shop lifter in department stores, the main character is now a lowly employee of such a shop. Despite technical difficulties with a video link at the end this was an atmospheric start to the evening.

The next play, Man Diving, took the perspective of two Bosnians during a time of civil conflict. The scene painted is desperate; ’35 000 mouths to feed and nothing to give them’. Portrayed with some cynical humour the two men are scathingly dismissive of the Croatian ‘enemy’ and the two English ‘peace keeping’ armed forces who came to assess the situation. The gulf between parties is huge; The writer (and poet) Tom Phillips gives a script that is sharp and punchy.

A military theme follows with the third play, Army Boy. The dialogue, funny and poignant in places gives a sketch between a young army recruit about to go on a tour of duty and his civilian friend. We are given a window into their banal conversation, crude and ludicrous at times. Scriptwriter, Ellen Smith, manages to impart a good balance between light-heartedness (drawing a lot of laughter, especially from the females in the audience!) with a glimpse of the sombre nature of being sent away to war.

The final piece, Hooligan nights, takes us back to nineteenth century London. A journalist, writing a book about the gang underworld, is getting drawn in further than intended when he takes a shine to a gangster’s girlfriend. Established playwright Shaun McCarthy portrays a seedy side of London in 1898 with parallels to crime in the modern capital. Together with the talented cast, a wonderful, dangerous picture is painted.

The actors Alex Dunbar, Kesty Morrison, Oliver Jenkins, Simon Jenkins, Ed Browning and Philip Perry (also assisting director) play convincingly. Praise goes to the whole team who managed to pull the performances together in amazingly little time. And watch this space for further emergence of scriptwriting talents.

– Review by Francesca Ward

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