Scratch nights give new writers, directors and performers the opportunity to explore and test works-in-progress. This is often a collaborative process, audience feedback helping the further development of the work. Reflex Theatre have taken this concept to a new level, with online short plays under the tagline “First page, last page – we do the rest”. In other words, the first and last pages are scripted with the cast improvising the part in between. This unique idea works remarkably well, especially in the hands of this talented ensemble, giving an airing to new works and providing splendidly enjoyable, though occasionally scary, performances.
Part of the Living Record Festival, four short stories make up this presentation, with the overarching theme of hopes and dreams resolving in unexpected ways. “Does Anybody Love Maisie?” by Sarah Barnett explores the relationship between Maisie and her co-worker Ollie after she receives her first Valentine’s Day Card. As they go through the belongings of a deceased resident of the care home they work in, they learn more about themselves and the departed Reg who also seems to have had a secret admirer. “Attic” by Nat Wood Fox involves ten creepy dolls and a map of the village found in the attic of the house they have just moved into. There’s weirdness and a mystery that affects the harassed mother and two teens who aren’t exactly thrilled to be there. The third piece, “Happy” by Morven Robinson, looks at the relationship between Holly and Tim and the things they aren’t being honest about in their relationship. Holly wants to write poetry, Tim thought she was happy watching football on TV and planning a family. Can their relationship survive if she follows her dreams? “The Island Warden” by Paul R Stafford rounds off the quartet, with a story about the effects of solitude and sheep on one man’s increasingly unstable mental state. Unsettling and at times funny, the warden’s behaviour grows weirder by the day and it’s left to the audience’s imagination to decide the truth of his situation, which definitely might not be all that it seems.
It is a marvel how the writers and performers can develop the storylines within the confines of the platform and in only around 10 minutes. A remarkable achievement. Using the Zoom-type platform is obviously a constraint but the cast of each play make this work through extremely impressive improv that neatly spans the first and last pages of the written work. This is especially true for the final play with its video diary format and because JT Stocks gives an outstanding performance as the disturbed Mikhail. The production is neatly put together to ensure that, although on a screen, this does not detract from the stories that are being told.
There’s wonderful creativity in UK theatre and it’s good to see innovations such as this to remind us that theatre is alive and well.
Short Form Scratch Night closes on the 22nd February 2021, https://live-stream.zarucchi.com/events/short-form-scratch-night/feed
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 19th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★