It’s a bittersweet pleasure watching Live Theatre’s new collection of online plays, 10 Minutes to Call Home. The last time I was in an actual auditorium was during Live’s Elevator Festival, a celebration of new talent that was cut short by COVID, and seeing that stage again gave me almost physical pangs. But it also reminded me of why Live is the beloved venue that it is: its commitment to nurturing new voices, and giving them a platform to shine, even if that platform is now online.
Although the ’10 minutes’ programme – which selects scripts from an open call out – has been running for some time (Samantha Neale’s Last Seen Bensham Road, which premiered at Elevator this year, was developed from a 10 minute piece), this collection of loosely themed plays marks the launch of Live’s new online programme, Live Wired, which will produce work for online viewing.
Of the nine works selected, seven are available now – two more (gobscure’s you can’t start a revolution sitting on your arse and Olu Alakija’s Watching and Waiting) will be released in November – and they are an eclectic but entertaining selection. All clocking in at around the 10-15 minutes mark, they’re perfect bite-sized treats if lockdown has shredded your attention span. While some are described as ‘filmed audio dramas’ and some staged straightforwardly as plays, all were filmed onstage at Live. Although connected by a theme, each is a standalone rather than part of some united or coherent whole, and they are such diverse pieces they are best dipped into separately, rather than watched in one go, the better to savour the distinctiveness of each.
In turns funny, moving, thoughtful and hard hitting, each short play examines the concept of home. Is it a place, a person? Something to be clung to, or something to escape? Is it a shelter or a prison? Or, as in Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock’s timely filmed audio drama Sheltered, which is set in a contemporary Britain that sees its citizens forced indoors every evening as the country faces nightly air raids, does it have the potential to be both?
The plays are dominated by young people and are brought to life by a talented group of actors – many of whom are familiar from previous Live projects (Jake Jarrett, for instance, co-wrote and performed in Wank Buddies, which was at last year’s Elevator) and most of whom are from the North East. When else but in your youth is the concept of home so fluid and so uncertain, then when you are still trying to figure out who you are in the world, and where you belong in it? In Niall McCarthy’s charming Star Fish (directed by Live’s Creative Producer Graeme Thompson), two young people (Mahsa Hammat Bahary and Aiden Nord) contemplate their futures under the night sky, while in Sarah Tarbit’s unflinching Invisible Boundaries (directed by Becky Morris), Jake Jarratt and Jackie Edwards are two very different youngsters, dealing with life and death on a tough estate.
At times the pieces are very funny. John Hickman’s broad comedy Blyth Spirit (directed by Jamie Eastlake) puts a Northern spin on a classic, as Matty (Mitch Donaldson) asks questionable medium (Adam Donaldson) to put him in touch with his deceased mam, only to conjure his chaotic ex-girlfriend Serena Ramsey instead. (Blyth is a place in Northumberland, in case you don’t get the reference). Ellen McNally’s Off Peak (also directed by Eastlake) shows off the comic chops of Colleen Prendergast, Annabelle Rich and Megan McKie Smith as three women on a train journey heading north.
There’s also a notable strand of tenderness running through the work. Despite its high concept premise, Sheltered (directed by Meghan Doyle) is at its core a piece about love, as Judi Earl, Jude Nelson and Francesca Tomlinson navigate familial and romantic relationships while stuck under the same roof in lockdown. Benjamin Storey’s Gutter Weeds (another piece directed by Thompson) centres on the prickly but often moving relationship between a house’s new owner (Samantha Neale) and its previous occupant (Donald McBride), while the youthful cast of both Star Fish and Invisible Boundaries capture the sometimes tentative, sometimes doomed, affection between their protagonists.
Although short, the collection doesn’t lack punch, and the plays often manage to cram a lot into their running times. A particular standout is Mandi Chivasa’s lyrical monologue Amai Vangu – My Mother. Tautly directed by Maria Crocker and performed with a simmering, reined in energy by Shvorne Marks, it’s a powerful reflection on family and identity, and how sometimes home has to be something you create for yourself and carry with you wherever you go.
Visit Live Theatre’s website to watch the ten-minute plays.