Tom’s A-Cold – June 2010

5/10

By David Egan

Directed by Lora Davies

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Tuesday 8th June 2010

This was the first play in the Directors’ Showcase. It was written by a Canadian playwright. Two men sit in a boat, trapped on an island in the far north of Canada. They’re survivors of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the North-West Passage; however as the play progresses, we realise that one of the men may not actually be there. Cannibalism rears its toothy maw, and eventually we find that there’s only one man left alive, though clearly not in his perfect wits.

The only set was a rowing boat, with oars, placed diagonally across the stage. It rested on a piece of hessian, and there were lots of props on board – spoons, comb, books, a gun, etc. Costumes were nicely in period.

The story started out with a fair bit of humour, as the two men attempted to keep their spirits up with various games, including the most predictable version of I-spy ever. It then became darker, as the story of the original ships was told via flashbacks, and as the “captain’s” insanity started to show itself more clearly, I was pretty sure his shipmate was a figment of his imagination long before he turned up again wanting to be told the story of his own death.

This was a mixed bag. There was a surprising amount of humour, some ‘scenes’ that were uncomfortable to watch, and some bits that dragged because they seemed repetitive. I felt the hour and a quarter running time could have been cut by twenty or even thirty minutes to create a tighter piece, but maybe that’s just me. The performances were excellent, as usual.

Post-show. There were several attempts by one gentleman in the upper level to hijack the discussion with a solo diatribe on the awfulness of the first piece, Tom’s A-Cold. Fortunately the audience and the two young directors (Sam sent his apologies) managed to fend him off.

Lora found her play through attending a play reading at Oxford(?) several years ago, and had wanted to put it on stage since then, so this was the perfect opportunity. Emma found it quite hard to select her play. Her remit was to find a short piece by a well-known writer which used three or four characters, and ran for only fifty minutes. It took months, but finally she thought of Orton and discovered this play, which she hadn’t known before. They each had to direct on their own this time – no assistants for the first-time directors – although they did the casting process together. I got the impression that as well as learning a lot about what the director’s job entails, they’ve also started to establish their network of contacts, which can be so important in many areas of life.

Apparently we were a quite sophisticated audience – not too many of us fell asleep, and we laughed at some of the jokes. Our quick response to the second line of Ruffian told them we were with the cast from the off. Perhaps the grim nature of the first play made us more receptive to the humour of the second – we needed a good laugh by then – although both pieces were pretty dark. Many people enjoyed both of the plays, though in different ways, and the cast and directors were warmly applauded at the end.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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