Written and Directed by Gavin Churnin
Unity Theatre, 16th-17th June 2005
As entrances go, my short walk from the theatre door to my seat was an
unsettling one. In front of me, a man jabbed impatiently at his laptop
while a woman lay motionless at his feet. In the front row, an older lady
shrieked abuse and told me to shut up because I was late. A glance at
my mobile showed that I was five minutes early and that either she was
very misguided or drunk or both. About another twenty people got the same
treatment before the man with the laptop spat out the very angry opening
words of The Play.
In each Padded Cell production, the characters are inmates and the audience
are psychiatrists. But in The Play we also get to play detective. Who
killed the woman lying on the floor, and why? Real life writer Gavin Churnin
takes us on a journey backwards and forwards in time, slowly unravelling
another thread of the tangled lives he has created and destroyed.
Danny (Matt Owen) longs to be a great playwright. The only slight problem
with that is he can't think of anything to write about. When long time
best mate Phil (David Washbrook) suggests writing a play about their relationship,
Danny just laughs. But then he meets Phil's new girlfriend Anastasia (Elizabeth
Brown) and decides she is one actress he wants to co-star with. The trio
enter into a complex love triangle that would be hell to live in but certainly
makes a fine play.
As if that’s not enough, we also have a whole psychological level
to get our teeth into. When a crime is committed, who really bears responsibility?
What makes ‘normal’ people do ‘crazy’ things?
Even the abusive lady in the front row must have been pure and innocent
once, so what turned her into a sociopath?
Staged almost exclusively in blacks and whites, The Play had a real film
noir anxiety about it. Owen gleefully danced on the line between genius
and insanity, whilst Washbrook was awesome in both his range and intensity.
Though Elizabeth Brown certainly looked the part, the character of Anastasia
didn’t seem quite sultry and seductive enough to be a true femme
fatale, so the strength of male passion she aroused seemed slightly out
of proportion. But this was a relatively minor flaw and didn’t take
much away from what was a very accomplished performance from the young
outpatients and inmates.