Written and co-directed by Claire Wood (with Alan Patterson), and produced by Production Lines, shrapnel is a 70-minute play live-streamed and utilising Zoom.
The setting is the pandemic lockdown, where we first meet Martha (Alma Forsyth) on a video call with her friend Viv (Beverly Wright). They are over a hundred miles apart but chat a lot, and Martha is about to reveal a long-hidden secret about her family and her past.
We also meet Martha’s daughter, Helen (Wendy Brindle), an exhausted nurse, and her two children Emily and Annie (Rowan and Heidi Fieldhouse). Left alone while mum takes on long shifts, they long for normality.
Outside this family unit are Jay (Ellie Tullis), a girl who lives in a tower block with a wheelchair-using mother we never see; and Rick (Richard Lydecker), Martha’s neighbour who is plagued by anxiety and fear of leaving the house.
I enjoyed watching the young performers in action, especially Jay’s monologues as she watched others go about their lives in the flats opposite. The effect of lockdown on children, particularly those acting in carer roles, is something I would like to see further explored through drama.
Martha’s neurosis and self-absorption was also amusing in her calls to her friend, but Helen’s situation could have withstood further exploration. Where was Dad? Why were he and Frank both absent from family life?
Wood’s script has a lot going on: loneliness, mental health, adoption, underage drinking, physical exhaustion, distance. I was not convinced by the appearance of Martha’s ex, Frank (Brian Neill), who left for sunnier climes, and I am not sure my conclusion about Rick’s identity was the one intended.
Don’t expect slick production values in this stream – the positive is giving work to performers and raising money for three charities (Age UK, Tiny Changes, and Acting for Others). The subject matter of lockdown may now feel a little stale, and I found that just as I was getting properly involved in Martha’s dilemma, the play ended.
A comic play which will leave you thinking, Shrapnel is free to stream until 22 November – sign up at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/shrapnel-tickets-123382344915.
My thanks to Richard Lydecker for inviting me to review this play.