"Theatre Is For Everyone" - Organised Chaos' After Words and Bottled Wasps
Francesca Lewis, Culture Correspondent
Like everyone else I know, even the intellectuals, I rarely visit the theatre. Occasionally I see a musical or ballet for a special occasion, or else I might check out something artsy and conceptual with my fellow feminists, but it is very rare.
When I visited Square Chapel in Halifax to interview award-winning company Organised Chaos and see their latest double bill of home-grown theatre, I was reminded of what a travesty this is.
Founded in 2009 by company director Gayle Hare, Organised Chaos have already made a name for themselves in the North, specialising in supporting new talent, regularly putting out open calls for scripts and actors. They recently received a grant from the National Lottery through The Arts Council.
I met with Gary Horler, Assistant Producer, who only became involved with the company nine months ago as Stage Manager for After Words, and is now part of the management team. He was keen to emphasise how important it is to support creatives and actors, to help them "get to grips with the industry" before they move on to bigger things.
He said the company looks for quality work that combines a mix of emotions with wide appeal, and shows that the writer has pride in their work. These standards were more than evident in 'After Words' and 'Bottled Wasps'.
The first production of the evening, 'After Words', starred a cast of Northern up-and-comers and was penned by ex-architect Michael Hart. The company's commitment to "nurturing theatrical talent" was reflected in the freshness of the writing and performances.
Julie (Claire Haymes) arrives in the afterlife following her suicide at the age of 71, after pining for almost half a century over her dead husband, and despite her years, finds she looks exactly like she did on her wedding day. She had hoped to find her loved ones after death but she is greeted only by red tape, endless waiting and, ultimately, bitter disappointment.
A clerk named Frank, played with beautiful comic charm and a real depth of feeling by Karl Greenwood (who you may recognise from the recent scandal over Derren Brown's Apocalypse - the show's unwitting star Steve Brosnan was mistaken for Greenwood due to a striking resemblance), encourages her to seize the day and do all the things she's always wanted to do.
The trouble is, the only thing Julie ever wanted was to be with those she loves, and she finds that her father, mother and husband are all living their own independent existences, suspended at whatever age they were at their happiest in life.
After Words questions our tendencies to rely upon others for our happiness, but also makes us wonder if an eternity of selfish indulgence would be as much fun as it sounds. It would have been so easy, considering the subject, to be preachy, but this is a play that asks us to look at ourselves, without passing its own judgments.
After a brief interval, the second production of the evening was 'Bottled Wasps', starring a smaller cast of more seasoned local talent and written by experienced playwright Paul Buie, showing that Organised Chaos prioritise talent above all else.
The story focuses on Grace (Marie Westcott) and Patrick (Hayden Thomas), a struggling couple returning to the seaside hotel at which the early stages of their relationship - back then an affair, as both were married - played out. They are greeted by foul-mouthed oddball Walter - played like an unhinged Jim Royle by the magnetic James Dunn - sole owner of the now dilapidated hotel after his wife "passed on".
Taking place in real time, the production soon goes from hilariously unpredictable to edge-of-seat tense as Walter's odd demeanour, the couple's growing animosity and a lot of alcohol are combined with a loaded sniper rifle.
'Bottled Wasps' captures the mundane details of daily life with witty, realistic dialogue and a clever use of props that makes the whole thing feel very real and pretty scary. One of my favourite moments was when Grace pointed the gun out at the fourth wall and the woman sitting in front of me involuntarily ducked. Such is the power of theatre!
This was the final performance of 'After Words and 'Bottled Wasps', at the end of a tour that took them to Buxton Fringe (where the former won Best New Writing) and Preston Fringe, among other venues.
The plays complement each other; both involve death, both deal with our dependence on others for contentment and our inability to truly know even those we love.
As a fan of quality television, I was struck by how similar the experience of watching these short plays - both just over an hour - was to watching a couple of well-crafted, well-acted dramas on TV.
The general public has a tendency to avoid the theatre like the plague - or worse, to forget it exists altogether - but the assumption that theatre preaches, intellectualises and is impenetrable to anyone without a PhD is completely unfounded.
Theatre is for everyone.
"Theatre Is For Everyone" - Organised Chaos' After Words and Bottled Wasps, 29th November 2012, 20:28 PM