Over the past year, the monkey has enjoyed many short theatre pieces from the Golden Age Theatre Company.
Filmed often at actors' homes remotely for online broadcast during lockdowns, a number also played live at the White Bear Theatre, London in September 2021. It shares below its opinions of some of them, with the FREE links for theatremonkey guests to enjoy them too.
A STRANGE ROMANCE:
Peter (Thomas Everatt) is young guy – into cars, motor bikes, attractive women with nice backsides (a female friend’s observation) and science fiction meets Blue in a café. A relationship grows, but where Blue fits on society’s imposed scale of male or female is the trigger for a remarkably purposeful piece of Ian Dixon Potter writing. Theatre at its best is about creating a space to explore an idea. Among a fairly impressive vintage car collection, this play raises the bonnet to examine the engines of relationships from many contrasting angles. While Peter and Blue are at the heart of the dialogue, we also hear about how deliberate androgyny is perceived by friends - and also parents expecting their son to bring home a more easily definable “special friend.” Their reactions reveal an outside perspective allowing both contrast and commentary without distracting from the central character’s own dissection of his feelings. Everatt is very much led by the dialogue. Howard White’s videography provides the cutaways and angles needed to bring pace to a necessarily slow exploration and final revelation. In fact, the ending is cuter than that, but a slip about ten minutes before will satisfy anyone wishing to tie up a lose end which does not require tying. That’s the point. Unlike live theatre audiences being pushed at the moment into involuntary bubbles, this is a self-created one containing many fluid colours. To be allowed a glimpse inside is a rare and intriguing new experience worth seeking.
In “A Strange Romance” we met Peter. Peter is a mechanic / aspiring motoring journalist who met someone called Blue in a coffee shop and fell in love. Blue refuses to wear a label. Blue works as a photographer and shop assistant. Blue realises strong feelings are developing for Peter. Last time, we heard Peter’s perspective. This time, we hear Blue’s version of events, and it is equally compelling. Beata Taczalska’s characterisation is disarmingly direct and it is obvious why Peter would find Blue completely fascinating. We already know from the previous play how things worked out, but Blue’s background as a child rejecting the hurtful tribalism many of us remember only too well and admitting those rebellious teenage years are fascinating. There’s also the interesting knowledge that the seduction was equal. Neither was truly sure what was happening, and while Blue chose to keep the sex and gender issue neutral until the couple were sure we find that this was about life choices rather than emotional insecurity. To Blue, it simply isn’t an issue. As well-written as the companion piece, and equally brilliantly acted. This is a pair of performances which should be watched together, possibly Peter’s perspective first.
Caroline (Melanie Thompson) is an ambitious young architect working for sleezy Scrooge figure Grossman – punning name no doubt intentional. She is in no doubt as to how promotions happen in the office and resolves to ‘play the game’ when given the opportunity of an after-hours penthouse meeting. Ian Dixon Potter creates a monologue exploring the situation of women in a stereotypically male profession. A general scene-setting made personal, “Dad thinks the glass ceiling is something I have to clean at work” being the gist, turns far darker as the action continues. Thompson is well cast as the confident Runcorn woman in charge of herself and her life despite feelings of disadvantage from public and familial perception. Her easy articulacy is engaging, her reaction to events as they unfold very much seeming a personal choice which another actor may play very differently. That Thompson selects wilting at the initial blow and confusion over anger will provide a talking point for both viewer and future production teams alike. One of this series stronger stories and more interesting debates, there is probably a full-scale play with multiple characters to be grown from this. At it is, the work provides fertile ground for debate in a way similar to Mamet’s “Oleanna” – where the lines and boundaries of morality are a valid subject for heated argument. Another slice of home-made filming has lighting reflecting in windows, some random clunks on the soundtrack, a worrying puff of smoke from the flat downstairs and a spectacularly grubby Indesit washing machine in view. Small touches that add credibility and amusing to look out for. To say more would spoil the interest in this piece. Writing and acting are strong, and it is a worthwhile 28 minutes.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
YouTube ban videos by conspiracy theorists. This explains why writer and director Ian Dixon Potter had to send out downloads of this to reviewers rather than use his regular channel on that platform. Neil Summerville is on finest character form as Neville, fully-paid-up member of the “Tin Hat” brigade, complete with sellotaped glasses and “Mad As A Hatter” drinking mug. Besides photographing UFOs and researching every conspiracy theory going, this (until they stopped it) sickness benefit drawing computer programmer spent time at Mountview Residential Care home visiting old neighbour Marjory. A little cough wasn’t going to stop him seeing her, nor her nurse Alan, who became rapidly his only friend. Covid of course doesn’t exist except to enrich the friends of the Tory party, and the whole thing is a massive hoax – empty hospitals being the proof.
Dixon Potter’s topical script is a very entertaining half hour topical sketch which will resonate with much of its audience and provide a useful sociological record of the time. With a deeply studied fun performance at its heart, and a few clever visuals, this is one worth watching online and should transfer well to the live stage once the subject is history.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
For those who find Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads” a little twee, Ian Dixon Potter has come up with an up-to-the-minute antidote. “Trivial Dispute” is the first in a series of “Tales From The Golden Ages” monologues. East London classic car fan Trevor falls out with his friends and fellow aficionados, troubles escalating as lockdown strains communication to the limit. Neil Summerville is every inch the local tanning salon owner, self-made and with a side-line as a mechanic. Increasingly edgy as his tale unfolds across a table with nothing more than a paper cup and pair of radiators to distract, he holds out attention for the entire 40 minutes. The writing is equally consistent. The tone changes around the mid-point as we shift from background and everyday life into something considerably more personal and toxic. The odd question is raised – for example Trevor describing how he moved to the area late in life, then describing a friend as a “local boy like himself” – but then maybe he considers his personal area is wider than this viewer does. Sound is excellent, and Neil Thompson adds to the atmosphere with some original music. Lacking BBC resources, Howard White does his best with the photography, only in extreme close-ups perhaps losing intimacy as Summerville plays to the side of rather than directly to the camera. A not entirely unexpected yet pretty much inevitable ending is satisfactory reward for 40 minutes of online attention. Worth a look as a lively diversion and bookmarking the channel for future episodes.
Arnold is 83 living in a Northern town with invalid wife of 63 years, Clare. Taking a break from passing their lonely lockdown playing Solitaire he lays his cards both literal and metaphoric on the table for us. Actor David Vale spends 40 minutes delivering unheard senior Britain to us, as condensed by Ian Dixon Potter. For those who read the “Daily Mail” this is a synopsis of that newspaper’s news and feature columns of the past four decades. Uncomfortable for the left-leaning liberal to hear, but recognisable instantly to the broad-centre right – those dismissed, shouted down or simply ignored in favour of those more able and inclined to seize the media megaphones. We meet a man who could be anyone of his generation. Left school at 15, machinist for 50 years in a company destroyed by cheap imports. Simple life of friends all now passed, mostly cancer – their smoky pub evenings perhaps the cause? A street where he once knew his neighbours before the houses were sold and rented to new immigrant communities. A town torn down and re-developed with ugliness and without thought where children might play. Brexit splitting him from his son, the widening technology gap dividing him still further from contact, and the effort to communicate with his one lifeline, “meals on wheels” defeated by culture clash. This will probably prove incredibly divisive as the older generation find agreement with every utterance and the younger find no frame of reference to the issues and become increasingly confused and alienated from a past they never knew - eons away from their own modern experience. “Footprints in the sand, someone following with a brush sweeping them away” is how Arnold sums up his life. Yet he speaks and records for his generation and even those several decades younger who are if anything angry that their personal nostalgia is no longer deemed valid despite offering much. A little piece of British sociology, an immaculate delivery by an actor who finds the pain, pathos and truth in every line, and a story idea and script which if saying nothing particularly original says it with clarity and records a truth for posterity.
Ageing Detective Sergeant Dunderdale is under pressure to crack a year-old double murder case. Two young men out for a walk near Fullerton, a quiet conservative (small and large c) village in middle England, were macheted to death and he does not have a clue who did it... ... except that a few people saw a black man in a very white community. A local boy himself, Dunderdale knows how people round there think, and more to the point how to get everybody to think the same so that a jury will convict. Alighting on Yousef Massoud as a man whose skin colour and previous record fit a few of the facts, over 37 minutes a case is literally fitted together. Behind an Inspector Frost moustache, Neil Summerville unleashes every cliché of racial, homophobic and political bias ever levelled at the police in the service of a conviction and maybe a much-wanted promotion. Writer Ian Dixon Potter leaves nothing out and adds a few lighter lines – David Lammie has an alibi despite locals placing him at the scene. Tries a little too hard with prison names, perhaps, but it feels authentic and credible. The big advantage is that the whole thing is wrapped up in a single short act. Pleasing as you will want to know how it ends even as you are appalled by the direction the investigation is going. Summerville holds the camera as well as he holds his drink, and you should resist jumping scenes as this all makes sense in the end. A short play that works equally well online or live.
In the future, we may not have to die. Author Ian Dixon Potter explores in monologue a digital alternative. Over 35 minutes, Thomasin Lockwood delivers straight to camera arguments for and against her decision over whether to abandon her cancerous corporal form for eternal digital existence. The ideas have been explored with regularity by novelists, cinematographers and even academics and philosophers. Dixon Potter manages to personalise with greater intimacy than usual the potential benefits and restrictions such possibilities may bring. As a short work intended for the stage, this crams in considerably more ideas than the initial scenario suggests, and the story flows in a manner which will not be revealed here as pre-knowledge would negate completely the impact. Howard White keeps the camera tight as Lockwood delivers her performance. Oddly, this is one monologue which may have benefited from the immediacy of live performance and direct connection with an audience – even if it means most sacrificing the intense facial expressions which drive our subject’s decisions. Lockwood provides a study in stillness and concentration even as her tale builds. The encouragement of unseen “Dr Galbraithe” is a stepping off point for her character to hold our attention for the entire recording. Dixon Potter avoids in the main science-fiction cliché, presenting rationally some likely unfeasible ideas in a manner making the story convincing. A neat animation by http://videezy.com opens and closes the film, and a nifty unscripted walk-on by an uncredited fly around 16 minutes in lends a final touch of humanity. This is the fundamental question: can human existence be reduced to bytes, and what might the effect be? The answer is an interesting half hour.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA:
Jake (Ivan Comisso) is your average “city boy” type – selling dodgy investments and living for the weekend, his friends, rugby, cars and one-night-stands with girls he hopes won’t bother him again. Lockdown has very much cramped his style and, resorting to Zoom, he ends up talking to Lauren. It turns into a sequence of conversations, during which Jake examines his attitudes towards women and wider relationships in a way he has never done before. Filmed on an iPhone for technical reasons, necessity has produced an effective intimate effect Comisso is very much “up close and personal” with the viewer at all times. His natural exuberant gestures add to his personality as he performs. Once past the sleaziness of his mind, Jake’s evolution in the actor’s hands becomes compelling, and leaves the audience hoping things work out as the boy engages the mind of a more mature male. Ian Dixon Potter’s writing is necessarily forced to tread worn stereotypical pathways, because that is the nature of the character. It is very much down to the performance that the work feels fresh, and the second half in which a new perspective is introduced assists greatly the balance of originality which would make an audience watch. Worth engaging with, as it has plenty to say about the joy of a deeper one-to-one relationship in economical capsule form.
Adapted from a stage version by Robert Pope and Ian Dixon Potter, Mark Shaer is William Shakespeare, looking back on his friendship with Marlowe. The tale is of the political and religious machinations of the time. Manoeuvrings in court as members shuffle for favour and underlings for their patronage and protection. Everybody is watching everybody else and hoping to avoid the need to testify in the Star Chamber. It’s a good subject for a monologue. The feel is of a biographical book spoken live, and Mark Shaer’s performance is compelling. Indeed, deserving of the attention of casting directors looking for a well-modulated speech-pattern and steadiness over the course of a lengthy scene requiring animation in ways not disturbing an overall effect of stillness. Howard White keeps the videography in sympathy, altering the angle only occasionally to relieve monotony. Neil Thompson serves up appropriately period music to do likewise. Dixon Potter manages to mix the few known facts with reasonable conjecture and a little dramatic licence to season. A fairly long script, and to his credit while there could possibly be a little tightening it is not obvious precisely where, as it is a matter of lines rather than entire segments. A neat piece for those wishing to learn a little more about Shakespeare’s often overshadowed contemporaries.
When Imogen’s girlfriend buys her a genealogy DNA testing kit, British Imogen (Melanie Thompson) is surprised to find that she is 49% Scandinavian, rather than the entirely British she supposed. This delights the pro-EU Politics and History doctorate student so much that she embarks on further research to find out just where here genes come from, a quick journey played out over 27 minutes in multiple short scenes by Ian Dixon Potter. Very much a study of a single person perhaps typical of her generation and political leaning, Imogen is simply angry about Brexit and at Brexiteers. Thompson delivers fast-talking rants between calmer more personal expositions. Leaning into the camera blazing with riotous personal indignation at times, at others relaxed and amused at her parents. Pretty much normal behaviour, really. There is a slight disparity in the writing between the character created and the logic of her beliefs as they are expressed. A doctorate student of politics would surely take a more even view of events, or at least be capable of expressing and weighing both sides of an argument. The play certainly gives one viewpoint consistently, but would it have come from a person with those academic credentials? Still, it is engaging enough for a short film insight into modern family relations and the wider experiences of the younger generation in the current world.
Carla neither wants children herself nor can tolerate the children of others. Invited to a dinner party where her old university friends either possess or crave them, her views are unpopular to say the least. A 37 minute monologue from Julia Faulkner covers the subject from all angles. Her own up-bringing, fear of what maternity does to a body, even taking a male perspective that he is expected only to provide first the child and then for its needs. The idea of anything outside of that relationship is alien to her, observing her dining companions only confirms the view. Ian Dixon Potter is back in Alan Bennett territory with the writing here. The first two scenes, and closing one are the strongest. The scene is set in the former, the conclusion credible without drama in the latter. Between, it is a somewhat mixed experience. The ideas themselves are unsurprising, the depth of analysis varying between compelling and slightly repetitive. Still, there are amusements to be had, not least in the bluntness and the all-too-familiar image of the childless man being offered one to hold. Faulkner provides an economical, sometimes bitter delivery. A difficult subject to discuss without losing audience sympathy, it would be interesting to see it played twice with a different actor taking another route with the words. Certainly the starting-point of a debate, but not really dinner-party material for the 30 to 40 age group.
“Back to the Future” is such a common story idea, they even named a film trilogy and stage musical after it. A De Lorean, a Space Hopper Box and now an “Orion” Mobile Phone are instruments to reach the past and perhaps change the future. Ian Dixon Potter’s device can call four days into the past, but with energy-sapping effect on the user’s own timeline. Less complicated than it sounds, and neatly tied off by explanations in the final scene. The only inexplicable is why the phone’s owner would write off a phenomenally expensive new phone to leave it in the hands of repairer Thomas Everatt in the first place. Still, lucky the guy in the hat does. Everatt works on a higher energy level than most actors, delivering an incongruous story with complete credibility and even more enthusiasm. It is a real pity television is a closed world and the new Doctor Who won’t be a newcomer, because this is a fresh Matt Smith who can deliver complex ideas with effortless simplicity. If all else fails, Everatt will end up either a physics teacher or behind a lecturn at 5pm commenting on the latest virus statistics. A few political meanders aside (forgivable as the payback will be amusing), and perhaps deserving of expansion to explore the full reach of the idea, this is a neat Philip K Dick style effort with an excellent central performance.
THE NEW NORMAL:
Ian Dixon Potter’s second online monologue sees wheelchair user Dorothy (Kate Carthy) dissect her life in a post-Brexit, post-virus Britain. Over 40 minutes she covers the things that worry us all now, telling us how – for her – they now are. Separation from the European Union has reached a point where foreign exchange, in all senses of the word, is an impossibility. Trade and travel, the functioning of industry, services, and the NHS on which overseas discourse and expertise depend are all on the wane. Against this background Dorothy employs an undocumented immigrant carer named Heidi. Their developing friendship and the challenges presented both to authority and Dorothy’s own beliefs build to a quite satisfactory conclusion. Along the way there are strong moments – Dorothy’s confrontation of her own attitudes and exploration of her son’s timidity. There are also some misguided inserts of radio humour as Robin Lustig is the voice of a BBC clearly at the mercy of a sub-Pythonesque wit. The location of Hadrian’s Wall will grate with a fair few, as may the heavy-handed name-dropping. Those interludes aside, Carthy’s performance is layered many times deep. More than dialogue, her timing and natural modulation reveals her character through speech patterns delineating thoughts, ideas, and internal debates as she tests every line. A sound idea with strong performances that would perhaps benefit from a slightly tighter humour edit.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
THE TRIUMPH OF EVIL:
Count Bernadotte (Neil Summerville) is a Swedish diplomat speaking post-war about his experiences negotiating the release of concentration camp prisoners with Himmler. Channelling Christopher Hampton's “A German Life,” Ian Dixon Potter has created a monologue taking another angle on German Second World War atrocities – with decidedly mixed results. The tone shifts between a somewhat dry history lecture, philosophical exposition and an occasional truly shocking moment, to which Summerville reacts with a silent headshake or similar gesture. There’s some nice touches to the set, even if the diplomat has rather a large number of English books on his shelves. Howard White has refined his camera technique in the course of recording these films, and Summerville is more relaxed too – though his accent is inconsistent. A work that highlights a few moments of forgotten history, with the positive of 30,000 rescued by Bernadotte’s actions (though he admits his failure when set against the overall numbers murdered). For this reason alone, there is sound reason for the piece to exist and command your attention for 50 minutes.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
In 2018 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre produced a production of “Othello” in which every thought of Iago was removed. The production was quick, but less than satisfying as there was no motive for much of the action. It seems that Ian Dixon Potter has found those lost lines and created this short play. Neil Summerville is a soldier railing at today’s “equal opportunities” policies being anything but – particularly where his modern army career is concerned. His frustration leads to the hatching of a plan to bring down all who have taken promotion opportunities which should have been his. Over 40 minutes perched on balconies, in bed and in a kitchen, this is Iago’s version of events, the plots and results in a running commentary parallel to the original Shakespeare play. There are nods to the present – a mask rather than handkerchief, a cocktail at a drinking session, a gun and a phone used as a recording device – but also a turn of phrase in the language which echoes the cadence of the original text. An explanatory lecture as much as a piece of performance theatre, it should be very useful as a teaching aid clarifying and making relevant one aspect of the complex original. Summerville is a truly grubby, grotty little personage – yet able to hold the attention for the duration. That he is satisfied with the final outcome is still revelatory even though inevitable. With difficult work filming outdoors in an urban environment, Howard White contends with background noise well enough to keep disruption to a minimum, and produces some atmospheric camera angles against dirty brickwork. Something for the education department as much as education.