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Vignettes review – slender slices of life by female playwrights | Stage

Vignettes is an apt title for HER Productions’ collection of new short plays by women at Hope Mill theatre. For the most part these are slender slices of life; small moments in larger, unseen dramas.

Though there’s no overarching theme, common threads emerge. The lost and lonely keep colliding, finding brief moments of connection. In Katherine McDermott’s Night Night Love, an encounter at a bus stop seems to follow a familiar script, until suddenly it turns into something unexpected and moving. Ellen Taylor’s The Cat Sitter – one of the highlights of the programme – also brings together two strangers, connected by the feline of the title. The play starts out as a deliciously awkward odd-couple comedy, mellowing into a richer, more complicated piece of drama.

While playlets such as Taylor’s are relatively self-contained, other offerings are more like teasers for longer pieces. Guess What? by Alexandra Keelan, with its vividly drawn teenage protagonists, could easily be a chunk of a full-length play. On the other hand, it feels as though something is missing from Keisha Thompson’s Tinderbox, which introduces too many character dynamics with not enough backstory.

A number of the plays bear the bruises of patriarchy. Sexual harassment is a fact of life for Keelan’s teenage girls, while the single mother in Jan McVerry’s Dancing Out is let down by the low bar set for fathers. In a more campaigning vein, Laura Harper’s offering, Porn Paradox, turns its fire on the misogynistic tropes of pornography, though it feels more like an argument than a drama.

In an environment in which commissions for female playwrights are still shamefully lagging behind, this is a welcome if occasionally uneven showcase.

At Hope Mill theatre, Manchester, until 6 February.

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