Review: Moments/Empty Beds
Image: Hope Theatre
Ava/Catherine - Julia Cranney
Emily - Carys Wright
Jo - Debbie Brannan
Daniel - Simon Mattacks
Daniel and Ava are two strangers who at first glance have nothing in common.
He's 56, she's 25.
He's a talker, she's a listener.
But after a series of chance (and awkward) encounters, it's starting to look like they're becoming ... friends?
The Wyld sisters tend to avoid each other.
Today they're stuck on a train, en route to visit their brother for his birthday.
In light of recent events, they're determined to show a united front.
But 250 miles into the journey, patience is wearing thin …
Since founding in 2016, Pennyworth Productions has toured its work to the Edinburgh, Camden and Galway Fringes.
Their work has transferred to the Arcola Theatre as part of its 'EH to E8' pick of the fringe season, and they have been the recipient of both the Scottish Daily Mail Award and an inaugural Eddies Award.
This February they are bringing their double bill 'MOMENTS | EMPTY BEDS' to the Hope Theatre, Islington. Having formed to use New Writing to Challenge Old Ideas, in these productions Pennyworth explore modern loneliness, family tension and missed connections.
This double bill of plays by writer Julia Cranney (who also acts in both of them as well) focuses on ordinary people - those who rarely get a chance to step into the limelight to share their stories and their world.
What we discover are people struggling to cope with mental well-being, the consequences of their past decisions, or conflicting personalities within a group of siblings.
Those issues don't exactly set the stage for mirth and gales of laughter as you might expect, and the tone of both plays is, generally, serious.
In the first play we meet Ava and Daniel who may be poles apart in terms of their ages but nonetheless become drawn together due to the fact that they get the same bus to work.
Ms Cranney's Ava has been lured to London from the north seeking adventure, or at least some new experiences, in spite of protests from her parents.
But what she's found there is simple loneliness - even if this is partly the result of her own lack of confidence and her inability to engage with potential friends, for example when she fails to tell her flatmates that it's her birthday.
The dialogue consists mainly of description - where one character describes what the other is doing - with relatively little being conversations between them, and only then in the latter segment of the play.
Though that has the benefit of illustrating the repetition of daily life, it also acts to slow down the dramatic pace to a near painful level, and one could sense the audience's desperate desire for something to happen - which it does in the end and with surprisingly novel effect, but it might just come too late.
In the second play, three sisters are on a lengthy journey to see their brother who is in hospital grappling with mental illness.
We find them on a train, with one of them more anxious than the others about getting to see their brother since she is his twin.
As the train journey slows to a halt when an 'incident' occurs on the line, sparks begin to fly between the siblings as long-harboured emotions and conflicts begin to surface.
In contrast to the first play, the writing here is more subtle with the nuances of the story and characterisations cleverly developed in a drip-fed style that keeps us absorbed for the duration and making this, at least for me, the more riveting of the two plays, even if both are notably authentic.
Julia Cranney admirably offers us two very different characters in these contrasting pieces - so much so that one would hardly recognise her as the same actor when she appears in her second role.
Moreover, she's exceptionally well-supported by the rest of the cast who present highly believable characters in both plays and that's a significant testament to Kate Treadell's tight, but sensitive direction.
And it's that combination of quality performances and direction, together with the emotive strength of the second piece, that overcomes the drawbacks of the somewhat laboured first play, boosting the overall pay-off of the programme.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Hope Theatre
Our show listing for Moments/Empty Beds
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