I am grateful that the Stephen Joseph Theatre tours to the Evron Centre in Filey, even when what they send out is of dubious quality, which has happened now and again over the years. This year the two plays making up the double bill made an odd combination but at least it made for a varied evening and I daresay they hoped that there would be something for everyone.
The first half was a one act play, Twenty 20 by James Quinn who is both an actor and writer. It was easy to see why it had been picked up (probably commissioned) by the SJT. It was a comedy about cricket in which a 20/20 specialist from the ranks of today’s wealthy spoiled top class cricketers meets a mysterious player from the past in the dressing room at Headingley, after he is called in at the last minute to play for England in the final match of the ashes series. It was a lighthearted comedy, but the humour was too reliant on name dropping and cliché, and didn’t make use of the interesting contrast between the two characters nearly enough. There were a great many opportunities missed. It was billed as “hilarious” in the pre publicity but while it drew a few chuckles from the audience in the Evron Centre there were no big laughs. This was a shame as James Quinn is an experienced playwright, mostly for radio, and the idea behind the play and its structure were very good. As I watched the two actors, Christopher Wilkinson and Richard Galazka, I was sorry that they hadn’t been given something funnier and more original to work with. They had both created solid believable characters and just needed cleverer dialogue to show them off.
Thankfully they got that in the second half when they performed Caryl Churchill’s A Number. The play looks at what happens when a son finds out that he was cloned at birth. As he questions his father they have to attempt to come to terms with the past, deal with the resulting confusion and explore what it means for them both. This is a big subject for a one act play but Caryl Churchill is a wonderful writer and she packs in more ideas than you would find in many full length plays. The dialogue is fast and furious, with lines cutting in on each other and overlapping, and you have to concentrate to keep up with the pace as thoughts and possibilities are thrown up which will stay in your mind long after the play is over. Not an easy job for the actors but both Richard Galazka as Bernard and Christopher Wilkinson as his father gave convincing performances, making sure that we saw real people as well as ideas being thrown up and challenged. From the moment the lights came up on Bernard’s stricken face I knew that we were on safe ground and I was right. Richard Galazka also found some clever (and subtle) changes when we saw him as Michael, one of the clones, who had an entirely different outlook on life and this character took us full circle when he admitted to being happy with his life, apologising lightly for the fact. It reminded me of a well known quote from the Buddha: “With our thoughts we make the world”.
As the cheerful man who had been giving out cups of tea in the interval said when we were leaving. “It makes you think doesn’t it? Not an easy one that”.
Caryl Churchill doesn’t do easy, just original, thought provoking and challenging.