Chris Eldon Lee review “The Human Race” and “A Mother’s Ransome” which can be seen at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre on Thursday 21st March.
One of the fringe benefits of Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn is the Walker studio where Shropshire’s community groups can experiment with theatrical ideas and new writing. Owen Lewis’s Portable Theatre Company returned there last night with their latest production of two short plays written by – who else but – Owen Lewis. And whilst I feel most comfortable reviewing this as amateur theatre, they are thinking outside the black box in which they perform.
‘The Human Race’ is a medley of inter-cut sketches involving people who mostly use the same pub. There’s a hugely booming and over-pretentious prologue and epilogue which the play has no chance of living up to; but the stories in between are well observed, neatly written and have a ring of truth.
David Wright shines as Cedric Ramsbottom, the accidentally amusing pub bore. There’s something of Alan Bennett in both his lines and delivery and he was rewarded with wry laughter…particularly when discussing the rising price of baked beans.
Ruth Cowell’s portrayal of a girl with an unplanned pregnancy and a decided un-supporting partner was also well scripted and convincingly played. It’s territory well covered by every TV Soap, but the fact that we only hear about the violent, failing relationship from the shy girl’s point of view encourages you to care. I can see, Ruth, why you play the part downbeat – but you must learn to project!
The acting generally is well tempered and naturalistic but I’m still not sure what a trick cycling poet was doing in there, and the author doesn’t supply a strong enough drawstring to pull all his interesting ideas together.
After the interval we’re in darker territory with “A Mother’s Ransom”. Doris doesn’t know her loving son is a gangster till he comes home with a gun, pursued by the police. To protect himself he turns the gun on her and the caring relationship she’d always imagined is ripped away.
The accomplished David Wright returns as the wayward drug-peddling son and he was so different I had to check the programme to convince myself it was the same actor. Sue Hay – as his grey haired mother – was the turn of the night, playing a difficult part with consummate comfort as the old dear is instantly required to adjust to her new reality. Hay handles the character’s rapid journey from bewilderment to decision with great understanding – but you must learn to project, Sue! The bedrock of both characters is once again the well-observed and compassionate writing.
The strength of both these productions is in the detail of the dialogue – though it is occasionally circular – and the cognisance of the actors above their amateur status.
And whilst the plots are not fully formed, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you concerned. They’re a company finding their feet and are to be encouraged.
Visit http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=3128 for information about the Arena Theatre