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On Record – Living Record Festival

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Cameron Essam and Ella Dorman-Gajic

Director: Cameron Essam

More good stuff from the Living Record Festival of digital theatre; this time a riveting and chilling drama about domestic abuse. Like a few plays in the festival such as BlackBox Theatre’s The 39 Steps, this show written by Cameron Essam and Ella Dorman-Gajic is a radio show about a radio show, and, again, the concept is more than a postmodern trick.

Naomi is an actor working on a drama about domestic abuse. She plays Mona who works at the Berkshire Women’s Refuge offering safety and support. She’s convincing in her role, but the other actors don’t seem to like her. When the director gives them time for lunch or cigarettes, Naomi suggests that the women grab a sandwich together, but her colleagues are wary of her and make up excuses. Even in the control room both the (male) writer and (male) director hint at some scandal that has attached itself to Naomi.

This mystery takes centre stage, but the radio drama they are producing is gripping too. A woman turns up at the refuge just as Mona is about to leave. Hannah won’t give up too many details about why she needs a bed for the night but Mona feels compelled to help her as she believes that in an earlier case she wasn’t quick enough to act. This sense of guilt drives Mona to take greater risks in her care for Hannah.

In only 35 minutes Essam and Dorman- Gajic manage to cram in a lot of drama, and initial fears that there are too many people to keep tabs on, always a problem with radio drama, are dispelled as the story narrows to focus on Naomi/Mona. Some of the closing scenes will have you on the edge of your seat, with original music from Loverboy helping to ratchet up the tension.

As Naomi/Mona Jesse Bateson is very good, subtly letting the listener know that there is a secret here to be revealed while Dorman-Gijic plays Hannah, the woman who wants to escape her partner with sensitivity, ensuring that she is never reduced to hapless victim. In the booth Essam plays the director with menace especially when he compliments his main star of the show. The director seems to waver on the side of sleaziness.

On Record, which has been created only very recently, could easily be a little longer, with the team laying the bait along a lengthier trail to draw the listener in even more closely. It could translate to the stage too, but perhaps radio, intimate and homely, is the best place for this thoughtful thriller about intimacy and the home.

Runs here until 22 February 2021

The Living Record Festival runs here from 17 January to the 22 February 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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