Friday, January 27

Tandem Writing Collective – Traverse Theatre

Established, run and directed by playwrights, Amy Hawes, Jennifer Adam and Mhairi Quinn, Tandem puts on new scripts by the three writers, performed script in hand here by Debbie Cannon, Vivien Reid, Lucy Goldie, and Calum Barbour, with musical accompaniment by Aaron McGregor (who composed all the music with the exception of one piece) and Lucia Capellaro.

In “Divide and Conquer” a mother-in-law and furloughed son-in-law deal with forced cohabitation during a Covid lockdown. In “Tying The Knot” (which is based on some real events), a woman hires an online ancestry website called to find out about the family she was adopted from with disturbing results. “Heartbrain” is a monologue about life and leasing with your heart. “Swing ‘Till You’re Winning” follows an understudy who locks the show’s lead in her flat for one last chance to live out her dream. And “Life On Marts” is a metaphorical piece likening a baby getting a genetic condition to life on Mars.

Judging a work in progress can feel somewhat unfair if you’re not there to give feedback: you’re only seeing the middle part of the process, you’re not part of its initial spark and set up or its final audience. A script-in-hand performance, one with only a couple of hours rehearsal for each piece, is a process, not a result. Like an anthology, which this also is, in which one grapples for a sense of what connects everything, where it is all building to. Rationally or not, the human mind searches for patterns.

Some can be found here, obviously within the cast and crew, the musical links and the existential themes, family and containment (many of these were presumably written around lockdowns after all). But ultimately the search is beside the point, and one must watch the show with adjusted sights.

The writer-directors and cast have used their limited rehearsal time well. Set, props and lighting are kept simple and to a minimum, with the staging showing a clear awareness that allowances have to be made for the performers not being off script, with specific parts being successfully tailored to including the audience in ways that a finished production might forego.

The show starts off with its more humorous pieces, with the second half being more dramatic and thoughtful. Jennifer Adam, writer of Heartbrain and Life On Mars, seems to have the more philosophical bent, though the former piece unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere beyond its initial premise, while Mhairi Quinn is more realistic flat shares and acting dreams in “Divide and Conquer” and “Swing ’till You’re Winning”. Judging Amy Hawes on her single contribution (which is mathematically half as fair as judging the others on two, though possibly no more accurate), she is somewhere in between, though in this case one wishes the more fantastic element had been foreshadowed a little more ahead of the ending. “Divide and Conquer” was an effective opening with its humour, though one could argue there is little to add to the Covid narrative with a flat-based two hander. “Swing ‘Till Your Winning” may have been the show’s peak, not only with its clear narrative but with its actor-based story which the lack of rehearsal clearly didn’t restrict the performers from identifying with.

Clearly a script-in-hand performance is more a showcase of writing than performance, but the role of the actors here cannot be understated, bringing life and freshness to their characters and making their limited preparation into a strength, while the music by Aaron McGregor and Lucia Capellaro single-handedly coalesced all the pieces into one show while offering colour (and sound-effects) in their own right. All of the pieces were interesting, though some more successful than others, and I for one would be curious to see what this team do next, with these works or others.

Reviewer: Oliver Giggins

Reviewed: 2nd April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★