King’s Head Theatre, London
Guest reviewer: Gregory Forrest
Assessing new writing nights is a tricky business. A critical line must be drawn early on between the evening’s overall creative gesture and the quality of individual submissions. Better to do this than parrot the worn-out phrase: “a mixed bag.”
First then, PlayList offers a musical twist to the scratch night formula. Write a play inspired by your favourite song, which is the exact same length as that song. It’s a smart invitation and one that benefits as much as it restricts. With over 20 “tracks” on offer, there is an exciting range of unexpected voices onstage throughout. Yet this thematic diversity is unmatched formally, with monologues and duologues dominating the schedule. It rarely feels repetitive, yet if PlayList returns it would do well to encourage and actively seek out more ambitious stage scenarios. Something to startle the sequence. When you have nearly 20 actors to play with, why not?
In regards to specific pieces, Abby Russell’s cRAVE is a brilliant opener for the show and quickly sets a contemporary, urgent and playful tone. Inspired by P!nk’s ‘Just Like A Pill’, cRAVE is a lyrical account of a rat-arsed night out, which explores how we justify sexual acts as a source of self-validation. It is both genuinely funny and genuinely upsetting, and I urge Russell to develop it further if she is not already doing so.
Ben Butler’s Friday, 6.23pm, inspired by Frank Ocean’s ‘Self-Control’, is my personal favourite. The short scene asks how we react when an ex-lover re-enters our lives and reignites certain feelings we thought we had forgotten. The lovers in question are tenderly portrayed by Lawrence Smith and Sam Cormor, and the text’s quality is elevated by clear direction from Paige Canepa-Olson. It is articulate, acerbic, and overwhelmingly beautiful.
The final stand-out is Dean Elliot’s Shift Work, inspired by The Fall’s song of the same name. Told as an overlapping pair of monologues by a couple holding hands, one of them holding a heart-shaped helium balloon, it asks whether work – you know, that thing you spend most of your life doing – ruins relationships. With its ping-pong-like structure, bouncing between speakers, Elliot’s text builds towards a climax of domesticity. And every second you are desperate for that balloon to burst.
PlayList’s weirder segments are also welcome: Niamh O’Brien’s TRUFFLES is a bizarre but enjoyable take on language and semantics, while Andy McCredie’s crack-driven monologue Dark Before Dawn is unexpectedly funny. There are filler tracks for sure, but at its best PlayList is a buzzing listen and a promising idea.