Released as part of 45North’s Written on the Waves series of audio dramas, Loss & Hope comprises three plays commissioned and co-produced by Atticist, Ellie Keel Productions, and 45North, in association with The North Wall.
These new short plays are inspired by Alchymy Festival, an annual celebration of new work at The North Wall, Oxford. They honour the creativity and connections events like Alchymy have inspired and will continue to inspire when they return.
First up is The Gift, a five-minute monologue written by Rafaella Marcus, directed by Jessica Lazar, and starring Olivia Marcus.
Although Alchymy was meant to host the ongoing development of Marcus’s first play, SAP, its delay has led to this short detour into the same world, in which one short vignette enables the main character to glimpse a memory, to pass through the portal of time.
Although the person she sees in a ghostly vision at the railway arches might not be the one who means the most to her (“there were other people I’d have asked for”), the encounter makes the loss of an object on an odd day “all right”.
This Is A Man, written by Luke Barnes, directed by Madeleine Kludje, and starring Liam Jeavons, runs fifteen minutes and looks at the pressures on men to “be strong” in tough circumstances.
Greg is a schoolboy living with his mum, who is separated from his dad. One day he comes home to find something has happened that changes everything and rips his world apart. The expectation to “be a man” and not to talk about anything, feel anything, causes a build-up to a catastrophic event where he “loses control”.
This play is extremely effective in its writing, moving from the mother who has uncharacteristically left the door unlocked and turned off the TV to the sad fate of noisy Freddie the school hamster.
The sound design (for all three by Tom Foskett-Barnes) is as sharp and stark as the words, so when we hear of crying, rattling breaths, or fights, there is a suggestion we can tune into.
In We Have Sinned, written by Tife Kusoro, directed by Grace Cordell, and starring Seraphina Beh, we meet a teenager at confession in a piece which runs eighteen minutes.
She’s interested in boys and interested in sex (“no real reason to pretend to be modest when you’re horny”). There are moments of amusement: the cute boy from the year above who listens and sings along to Taylor Swift, the googling at nine to be “horrified” at the mechanics of sex the nuns at school haven’t discussed.
Darker moments, too. The pressure on a girl to say yes when a boy makes a move. The revenge porn scandal which drove another girl out of school and her family out of the area. The Spiderman stickers on the ceiling when “something in my head was saying ‘stop'”.
There is both religious and personal conflict in this piece, the feeling of making a mistake as well as being glad a milestone has been passed.
As a trio of plays, the theme of Loss & Hope is clearly addressed through the stories of these three characters. The writing and performing styles are very different, but each piece of drama hits home powerfully and practically.
The strongest piece for me was This Is A Man which directly focuses on male mental health and the long-held assumption that violence is good but showing emotion is not.
However, all three pieces have something relevant to say and they can stand together or apart as strong pieces of drama.
You can access these and the other plays in the Written on the Waves series here (free to listen).
A second series begins on 27 May with a play released every two weeks until August.
Other reviews from Written on the Waves: Cunch.