Traverse Festival 3 – continues until 7 September 2020
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The Traverse’s online Festival continues with three more audio-only Breakfast Plays, as well as some treats that are more visual.
Shielders by Matilda Ibini does, as the name suggests, deal with the pandemic. However, it also covers a great deal of other ground. Drawing on Afrofuturism and science fiction but a great deal else besides, this packs a huge amount into only 25 minutes.
Unlike the Breakfast Plays, Shielders is a visual as well as an audio presentation, and manages to make virtues of the drawbacks of a production filmed under constraints – thanks to Debbie Hannan’s crisp direction, Mwen’s sound design and Lewis den Hertog’s outstanding video design.
Starting as a portrait of three people watching for UFOs, it branches off to comment on the world in 2020 with humour and grace. If the dialogue is uneven, at its best it crackles with wit and imagination. There is really too much going on – with the feeling at the end that you have watched a whole TV series in a matter of minutes – but its drive and ambition cannot be faulted.
Michael Akhoma-Lindsay, Danielle Fiamanya and Laura Lovemore bring vibrant life to some characters deftly drawn by a writer with an intriguing talent. This production is online for a shorter period than the others and really deserves a look.
The Breakfast Plays are now all available to listen, and have some interesting shared themes, with four of the five responding to recent events with either a portrait of the apocalypse, magic realism, or more often both.
In Conor O’Loughlin’s Doomsdays, the apocalypse was one that failed to happen as promised in 2012 – or was maybe just postponed – as believers Felix (Robbie Jack) and Faye (Lovemore again) track down their erstwhile guru Senga (Helen Katambi), now reinvented as an estate agent.
Like the other productions, this is superbly acted, well directed (by Hannan, as are all the other plays discussed here) and presented with the utmost professionalism – Oğuz Kaplangi’s sound design is particularly noteworthy here.
Doomsdays does suffer a little in comparison to some of the other Breakfast Plays, being a little one-note and predictable. Its tone is both jocular and prosaic, simultaneously difficult to credit and all-too-predictable. While always diverting, it could do with some pruning.
No such problems with Amy Rhianne Milton’s Matterhorn, which is set in a cathedral by a river, a refuge for the survivors of humanity after Time itself has gone wrong. Or perhaps it isn’t, as there are several different shifting layers of reality for Casey (Katamba again), her sister Freya (Karen Fishwick) and Morrigan (Lovemore once more).
Genuinely perplexing, this is an extremely atmospheric and poetic production that is aided greatly by Kim Moore and Richard Bell’s sound. It resists easy categorisation or explanation, and is a troubling but rewarding listen.
There is a formidable dramatic intelligence at work here, and if the end result is not always coherent (or even explicable), the end result resists easy categorisation, and is a troubling yet rewarding listen.
The Watercooler by Uma Nada-Rajah seems much more everyday at first, with its story of office politics being affected by the outside kind. Kai (the excellent Lovemore again), previously ignored, now seems likely to become flavour of the month in the wake of Black Lives Matter.
Yet the story takes a sudden left turn into symbolism that could seem awkward were it not for some careful writing and tremendous performances from Lovemore and Anna Russell-Martin. This is another object lesson in how to fit a great deal into a small space, clocking in at under 25 minutes.
There is some very promising writing talent on show here, and it is done justice both by the standard of performance and production by the Traverse.
Running times: Shielding 25 minutes; Doomsdays 48 minutes; Matterhorn 39 minute; The Watercooler 22 minutes
All available on the Traverse 3 online platform
Shielding available until Wednesday 2 September 2020
Doomsdays available until Tuesday 8 September 2020
Matterhorn available until Wednesday 9 September 2020
The Watercooler available until Thursday 10 September 2020
Details at https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/traverse-festival
The first two Breakfast Plays, Contemporary Political Ethics (Or, How to Cheat) by Jamie Cowan and Rabbit Catcher by Rebecca Martin are reviewed here: Traverse Breakfast Plays (1).