Writer: Mike Bartlett and Edward Allan Baker
Director: Sam Redway and Daniel Bradford
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
As part of the Greater Manchester Fringe, Play With Fire Productions present two short plays in the cosy 53Two Pod, tucked away – like all good fringe spaces should be – under a railway arch. It’s a great space that feels like a place where writers and performers can experiment. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should expect to see new writers and inexperienced performers. Both Mike Bartlett and Edward Allen Baker are established playwrights with plenty of short and full-length works behind them, and the cast of these two duologues, Contractions and North of Providence, deliver accomplished performances.
Act One, Bartlett’s satire on the controlling nature of the corporate world, is a tightly wound, slightly absurd piece in which a young employee is pushed to the limit by her controlling boss (Clare Cameron). Endless repetition of being called to her manager’s office and questioned about her work and private life, drive her slowly, and tensely, to a state of nervous collapse. The goal-posts move inexplicably and frustratingly as the nameless manager introduces ever more preposterous company policies. At first it’s an effective device but it becomes slightly dull before the ultimate pay off of bringing the long-suffering Emma (Amy Du Quesne) to breaking point. Cameron has lovely comic timing, with minute facial expressions that might be lost in a larger theatre but are perfectly subtle in this intimate space. She plays the ultimate jobs-worth in a totally believable way, despite the absurdity of her words.
It’s not clear why these two plays have been produced as a double bill, but they could not be more different in pace and delivery. Where Contractions is played with a cold detachment, North of Providence is a hugely passionate, violent piece that bursts onto the stage and doesn’t stop for half an hour until one of its central characters is truly broken. Hannah Ellis Ryan plays Carol, turning up at her younger brother’s squalid upstate New York apartment in an attempt to make him visit their dying father in the hospital. Bobbie (James Oates) has given up on life somewhere along the way, while Carol has re-made herself, despite some pretty dark moments in her youth. In this claustrophobic play, where the two siblings circle one another like wild dogs, family secrets are laid completely bare. There’s perhaps not enough light and shade here, meaning that the final revelations don’t have quite the impact they should, but both Oates and Ryan deliver spirited, fast paced performances. North of Providence is firmly lodged in the American domestic drama (or perhaps short story) genre, with rather too many of its clichés, but it’s a tightly written and adeptly performed piece.
Runs until 29 July 2017