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Isolated But Open: Voices From Across the Shutdown (7-12) – Papatango

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Papatango Theatre Company is one of the strongest voices in championing new work, and its annual New Writing Prize ensures that the winning play receives a full production in a theatre, and the most recent winner, Samuel Bailey’s play Shook, after a successful tour, was just about to transfer to the Trafalgar Studios before the global lockdown hit. However, the lockdown has not deterred Papatango, which set up the Isolated But Open competition and from out of over 2,000 submissions, the 12 winning monologues, each now paired with an actor, are free to watch on the website.

Our four-star review of the first six monologues can be read here, and the quality of these short films is maintained in the final six, beginning with Leave A Message written by Hannah Mribiha and performed by Laura Hanna. Set right at the start of lockdown, Hanna plays a young Muslim woman stranded in the UK, while her father encourages her to come back to her home country, perhaps in the Middle East. He usually texts but one day he calls, and Hanna steels herself to reply. He wants her to read the Qur’an, but she’s not the daughter he thinks she is: she drinks, she has tattoos. Hanna’s acting here is so good, that it’s hard to see this intimate portrayal of the relationship between father and daughter as fiction.

Also set in the early days of quarantine is Pythagoras written by Emma Pritchard detailing the life of a schoolgirl played by Lucy Bromilow, who’s upset the school prom has been cancelled. It would be an end to school, and for many, the end of their virginity. In the girl’s words: ‘an end to history and hymens.’ As her friends discover boys, Bromilow’s character feels left behind and isolated. She finds company in the most unexpected of places. Pritchard’s words are full of vivid images, like the boy eating a packet of raw pasta, and this tale of teenage jealousy and longing is reminiscent of the BBC’s recent adaptation of Normal People. Pythagoras could easily be extended, and taken to a theatre once they re-open.

The best of these six is Hips written by Alex Riddle and tenderly performed by Josef Davies. It tells the story of a man learning that not one but two of his heroes are not as perfect as he thought they were. One of these men is the father of Davies’ character, and the other is Michael Jackson. Father and son are both tribute acts; the father a ginger Elvis, the son a ginger Prince of Pop. It may sound unlikely but that never stopped Black Elvis’ successful career in South London. Davies’ performance is both funny and sad, and while the story is set in the past, through a few well-chosen objects – a belt, a roll-up, a wine bottle – we sense where this man has ended up.

Hair to Stay written by Danusia Samal briefly tells the story of a woman ashamed of her body hair. Shanaya Rafaat gives a lively performance here, as she reveals her armpits to the camera, hoping that the lockdown might mean we re-evaluate ideas of beauty. It’s a touching story but the second half of this five-minute piece too quickly recycles ideas from the first. It has potential, however.

Again, feeling like it needs a little more work is The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which begins like a science lesson delivered through Zoom. But swiftly Tafline Steen’s short piece brings us to real life meetings in dull grey rooms, meetings for counselling, self-help, or AA. Andrea Hall gives a solid, and appropriately chilly performance and the story is temptingly concealed.

The last monologue may require a little prior knowledge of The Killers’ song, All These Things That I’ve Done to be entirely successful as in Pip Williams’ One More Son actor Daniel Monks describes it in detail. Like Hips, it charts the relationship between a man and his father, but unlike Hips there seems to be a reconciliation of sorts, as Monks’ character, in relating The Killers’ hit, gestures towards forgiveness, or a desire to be forgiven himself. Monks’ vulnerability is well played here, but there’s a sense that loving the song is crucial to loving the monologue.

All twelve monologues are worth your time, and Papatango have pulled off something special. While theatres remain closed, these glimpses into other lives might be just what we need.

 Streaming here

Our review of Isolated But Open: Voices from the Shutdown (1-6) can be read here

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