‘Challenging preconceptions’: DARLING / A PASSION PLAY – Written On The Waves (Online review)

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45 North’s audio play series Written On The Waves kicked off Season 2 with a trilogy Lifted a couple of weeks ago. This has swiftly been followed by a second play from one of the same writers and as it was reasonably brief I also thought I would go back to one of the pieces from Season 1 that I had yet to get round to reviewing.

While I usually like to try and find a pertinent connector to these double headers, if only for the sake of tidiness, on this occasion there really isn’t anything that joins them thematically or through characters, plot or even writer. What joins them on this occasion is simply the fact that they are both very good examples of audio drama produced for the same enterprising project.

To get the full enjoyment quotient from Tabby Lamb’s Darling you really have to know your way around Peter Pan and I’m not just talking about the panto/Disney versions but some of the more obscure corners of J.M. Barrie’s original; fortunately, I’m familiar enough with it for the references to hit.

The voice we hear is that of “Wendy” Darling who has both grown up and adopted non-binary status. They are running a nursery (called, inevitably, Wendy House) and in a confessional to Tinkerbell all is revealed about some of the previously unacknowledged aspects of life in Neverneverland, the fate of brothers John and Michael, what became of the Lost Boys and in particular Wendy’s relationship with Tiger Lily. Peter himself appears in the margins of this story as a shadowy figure more or less stalking Wendy and acting as a constant reminder about the past. This acts as a counterpoint showing us as someone who refused to grow up, change and develop unlike the protagonist who took the leap of faith.

The whole piece is delightful, but Lamb’s writing also has a challenging dimension to it as it probes the topic of gender fluidity and “messy queerness” challenging preconceptions in the same way we are also challenged by the reinvention of such a well-known tale.

David Hoyle is the voice which draws us in, though a bedtime story is about to be related only for us to find out it is something quite different. While his tone is soothing there is also some acid below the surface and it’s one of those voices which simply cries out to be listened to. I did think it was a shame that the pirates were relegated to a couple of passing references and wondered if they might not have been brought into the mix through the lens of toxic masculinity, but I suppose that might have unbalanced the piece away from its primary concerns. Hook is still a great villain though.

From 45 North’s latest release to one of their Season 1 outings – A Passion Play by Margaret Perry. The play is set in a church carpark where Bridie and Sam meet up after rehearsals for the titular drama but find themselves falling into a relationship which may also come to echo the play’s title. They are in their middle teenage years and quite a contrasting pair. Bridie is local, generally compliant and has a declared belief in what she is doing. Sam has moved to the area from England is rather more bolshie and is only there because her dad signed her up. The pair talk about everything and nothing as they wait for their lifts home and we follow the progress of their relationship throughout the rehearsal and performance period.

This is a generally gentle drama with winningly believable performances from Nicola Coughlan (Bridie) and Hannah Bristow (Sam) who show how the pair gradually come to influence the other’s views on a number of topics. Margaret Perry has pertinently set the play in spring 2015 – the time when Ireland was taking a vote on legalising same sex marriage and some of the discussions have a bearing on this topic. Ultimately Bridie and Sam embrace the idea of flouting convention something which also informs the actions of Darling’s protagonist. Hey, I think I just found my point of connection.

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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