Written by Claire Wood
Directed by Alan Patterson & Claire Wood
It hasn’t been an easy time for anyone. In particular health workers, the vulnerable and those who have tragically lost loved ones and financial security. Life, however, endeavours no matter how different it may feel.
One person’s ups and downs correlate to the shrapnel effect across those they love, know, and interact with – initially entrusting her neighbour with the duty of witnessing her will, Martha is otherwise housebound, only interacting over zoom or the telephone. Meanwhile, her daughter Helen struggles with the endless hours as a care worker, mother and supporter for her mum with four hour-round shopping trips for her.
The reasonings of writer and director Claire Wood’s decisions at the foundations of shrapnel is to draw inspiration from the how of utilising a digital medium for a piece of theatre. To incorporate the setting of Zoom, rather than merely using it as an extension of the camera. Opposed to just filming a staged production, shrapnel uses the online platform as the stage, and though we may find ourselves far from the stalls, and ice cream vendors – Production line’s show has all the trimmings of authentic live performance.
But more, shrapnel demonstrates the shortfalls we’ve identified over the year and the vulnerabilities we have taken for granted. Not only in the elderly or perceived vulnerable, but the young who find themselves without stimulus or families, and a generation of young adults out of work, out of cash and with crippling anxiety feeding into the hands of isolation.
Connections are everything, particularly these days. And the ability to forge these across screens has become something we’ve had to grow comfortable with, and though the entire cast demonstrates a natural affinity with one another, there’s a particular sincerity captured in the pairing of Martha and Rick – an aspect which could easily have been played for laughs. Building, rolling and cascading into anxious, there’s a myriad of ages and groups who will recognise anxiety in Richard Lydecker’s frantic descriptions as Rick’s bubbling stresses and difficulties with sleeping impact his life. So too is Lydecker’s comedic timing, trickling out at precisely the keenest moment of impact or diffusion of a potentially awkward situation.
Despite being the centre-point which our characters congregate around, Alma Forsyth’s Martha isn’t robbing the attention away from her co-stars. Her control is deft, and the charm she exudes is infectious as the production grows following a slower start. The back and forth she shares with best friend Viv (the vivacious Beverley Wright) and neighbour Rick make for shrapnel’s naturally flowing sequences, and often the stronger points of comedy.
That is, save for Brian Neill’s late introduction to the story as the bonza mucker himself Frank. A surefire hit with the ladies (he thinks), Neill conjures a real sense of those family members we haven’t seen for years, but beam with joy when we see their mischievous faces pop up. A notorious influence on his grandchildren Emily and Anna, it’s clear to see where the young stars Rowan and Heidi Fieldhouse’s evident enjoyment comes from in the production.
Slightly disconnected to the primary story, but threaded in neatly, is Jay. The authenticity which Ellis Tullis brings to her delivery is (to be frank), for a performer of her age remarkably impressive in delivery and natural ability to refrain from making aspects of the script feel stilted. Jay is a girl coming to the age of both independence and a recognition of the value of family, and of course, potential love interests. The writing, seamless inclusivity, and performance here is both Wood’s and Tullis at their best, and in no small part a mark of credit to Alan Patterson and Wood’s direction of the piece, particularly in Tullis’ monologues.
Thanking Wood’s writing and Patterson’s direction is unafraid to find the light in the misery and puncture the script’s more serious tones with levity, sarcasm and some cracking line deliver from ‘down unda’. It demonstrates an understanding of offsetting intense subject material, whilst also paying tribute to the severity of the narrative.
By the wrap-up performance from Wright to play us out, similar to this second lockdown which looms across the nation, shrapnel loses a little steam. It follows a few motions which have become rhythmic, and the ending isn’t as neatly tied together as the precursor scenes. Nothing ends poorly, but character reactions and choices feel frayed from the performances which have been leading up to this point.
Without question though, shrapnel may well have been conceived to exist on a digital platform, but it is undeniably live theatre at it’s absolute. Shrapnel emerged as the secondary thoughts resulting from a foiled Festival Fringe appearance, but it never sits as something which hasn’t had tremendous care placed into it.
Production Lines have not only captured the difficulties of isolation across different generations but found enjoyment in re-connecting with people over digital means, and successfully tying their method of performance into a coherent story. Set against the soft melodies and an original composition of Wright, shrapnel is an autumn showcase you’ll not want to miss out on as we draw closer into what is likely a less social Christmas.
Tickets are available through EventBrite