Last Thursday saw me at the Open University in Birmingham to watch a performance of short plays by Shoebox Theatre – a local theatre company that focuses on ‘expanding horizons and breaking down barriers’, and they do just that, working with schools and care homes, bringing theatre to life in a manner that is unrestricted by ability or a conventional approach.
Two plays were performed, the first being a dark comedy set in a nursing home that provided a very lifelike portrayal of life for the inhabitants building to a rather moving conclusion and a powerful performance by the protagonist. In an amateur setting with no specialised lighting and accompanied only by a pre-recorded soundtrack, the performance was surprisingly effective.
The second play, and the more poignant one for me, was When? By Michael W. Thomas. This tracked an exchange between husband and wife arguing about whether to reveal a big secret to their daughter. At the end the secret was withheld from the audience and left to the imagination. Amongst the audience members there were varied interpretations about what the secret had been and this fuelled a great discussion afterwards.
What was perhaps most interesting for me, was that in speaking to the writer and performers afterwards, I learned that the writer did not have a particular secret in mind when he wrote the piece, rather it was important to him that it remain open. In contrast, the actors had decided to select a secret and keep this in mind so they themselves knew the ‘reality’ of the situation, which I think gave strength to the performance, and I came away from the evening both impressed at the calibre of the writing and the ease at which the actors of both pieces delivered strong and memorable renditions in a simple classroom environment.