The second in Paines Plough and Oran Mor’s run of their popular A Pie A Pint & A Play season at the Royal Exchange is a very different beast from the first, the kitchen sink drama Dig. David Watson’s play tackles the subject of the role of modern technology in our lives, exploring the new ways in which we communicate with each other. In a world where people connect by text messages, Skype, Blackberries, and iPhones and the like, it’s a pertinent subject and Watson attacks it with an often bewildering array of situations and characters; the resulting production has the quality of a collage, a collection of short, sharp scenes.
The three actors -Rebecca Elise, Rachel Oglivy and Jack Reid – throw themselves into things, playing a diverse range of characters including two morning radio DJs, an estranged father and daughter trying to reconnect with each other, a pair of nurses tending to a patient, and two police officers attending to a road traffic accident.
To cram all this into 45 minutes and to attempt to link the various disparate scenes and stories together is quite a challenge and one that the play achieves with only a limited degree of success. The performances are uniformly strong – especially that of Elise, who captures both the cheesy quality of a local radio DJ and the pathos of a university student who remains glued to her smart phone while her father tries to talk to her – but some of the scenes undeniably work better than others.
That particular exchange between father and daughter is the stand-out moment of the play; Reid plays a man who feels desperately out of touch while Oglivy narrates over their conversation in a pleasingly deadpan manner. Certain other scenes, particularly those featuring the police officers and the nurses, are less well constructed and the audience are left struggling to connect the dots. There’s a growing feeling throughout that Watson’s trying to pack too much into his 45 minutes.
Director James Grieve does a terrific job of making the piece work visually. All three cast members are clad in black, while each scene is linked together by bursts static, white noise and pop music, with the welcome appearance of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ creating one of the production’s more memorable moments. Though it’s a brave and intriguing piece of writing, in the end Watson’s play – unlike Dig – feels a bit too constrained by the limits imposed on it. Despite this it lives long in the memory, and should be praised for refusing to keep things tidy and to serve up easy answers in addressing whether technology does indeed play too big a role in our lives.