2017 meeting review: March

Introducing the April meeting and reporting on the March meeting

The last meeting of the 2016-17 season, before the April AGM

Discussion of members’ news was dominated by this month’s Hove Grown festival, featuring many members and their writing, directing and performing work, including:

Rose Collis, Philippa Hammond and Thomas Everchild: ‘The Trials of Colonel Barker’

Murray Hecht: ‘Fit For Work’

Tony Briginshaw:’Anaphylactic Shock’ and ‘Two Controversial Short Stories’

Judy Upton: ‘Cast Iron IX’

Rob Cohen: ‘Men Without Friends’

Simon Fortune: ‘Meebles Get The Show On The Road’

Details of the Hove Grown festival events, dates, venues and tickets at www.hovegrown.org.uk

Work in progress or for sharing

The March meeting was a members’ writing evening of rehearsed readings and discussions:

Sussex Playwrights Two Plays March 2017

One Touch by Steven Lancefield
Shirley Jaffe
Poppy Manley
Sorcha Brooks

Sorcha Brooks is introducing Poppy Manley’s new mental health nurse to their problem patient, rather hastily. You’ll be fine’ she briskly reassures the young recruit, a mental health nurse whose first challenge this is.

Carol’s an old widow black widow in a black shawl… Shirley Jaffe’s cowled cackling’s like a panto witch whose identity’s been veiled in NHS-speak. Jaffe talks of how little Manley’s been told about her, how indeed everything changes on touch. Carol says by touch she can transmit madness, dares Manley’s new nurse to allow her to touch her.

Since Carol has the power of transference, not of grace, but of contamination: her irrational gestures are of course no match for Manley’s training, Manley asserts. Jaffe’s Carol dares her to touch, if she’s so certain. What Manley does, and how she confronts Brooks evince a chilling outcome: is this is spooky or how mental contamination of any belief asks what irrationality it is in us that can catch it? Anyone.

Steven Lancefield’s expertly tailored play is more than compact: it’s a perfectly-crafted fable on paranoia, a certain kind of malign sufferer (those who work in mental health know this) whose challenge to infect demands consequences of reason, unreason and our own vaunted sanities. Who is mad? In just fifteen minutes, Lancefield has unpacked a series of Russian doll baboushkas shawled with venom in fixed grins.

Brooks’ small part is consummate administrator with a flinch of something else s she breezily sweeps Carol’s challenges under a thick utility carpet; it’s chilling in itself, and Brooks catches that recognizable dismissal some NHS administrators bring. Manley carefully calibrates fragile even petulant professionalism gradually to panic. Jaffe’s venomous crone – this is someone who can appear so seraphic on TV – scrunches delight in her machinations: a measured poison-tree dripping its leprous distilment. Lancefield’s play is consummately worthy of their talents. It was all over in under twelve minutes. A perfect radio play for the Radio 4 Woman’s Hour slot – or indeed anywhere else on the network.

The Neverland Singularity by Thomas Everchild
Thomas Everchild
Philippa Hammond

‘You know I had that Bertrand Russell in the back of my cab once, and I asked him well what’s it all about, and you know he couldn’t tell me.’ Maybe it’s urban myth out of stand-up; it probably happened.

There’s a couple of 2005 radio plays by poet Sean O’Brien exploring that perennial British fantasy: a working cabby or labourer confronted with a philosopher who then doesn’t just out-argue them, but shows a thorough knowledge and grounding in their works.

Whilst the mythical cabby pops the question our common sense wants to ask of inductive reasoning, and trounce it, O’Brien takes his cues from historical events. Everchild delights in that perennial the cabby bit does something else again: brings a sexual dynamic: man-in-the-street put-down meets chat-up.

Philippa Hammond is beautifully priggish, asking directions to the conference. Everchild works this out, the science one. He begins questioning Hammond simply, and Hammond does a fine job of registering off-hand impatience gradually assaulted by Everchild’s gift of chirpy petulance, nagging and irritating Hammond into losing her temper but not her reason: she can’t shut down the cabby’s maddening rationality. Each question builds up questions of stellar singularities and astro-physics, which Everchild increasingly shows he understands well in outline. Hammond’s character drops hauteur for mild outrage, but is hooked; her training, initially dismissive of stupid questions, can’t cope with left-field informed ones. This sparring reaches a catharsis and an unexpected (hoped-for) conclusion.

It’s a perfect ten-minute play, ideal for radio like Lancefield’s. Lighter by far in tone, it’s packed with clever interrogatives and leaves us a bit more enlightened on astral physics as well as cultural sexual politics.

Simon Jenner