Actor Awareness Review

Posted on 3rd October, 2017

The Actor Awareness campaign run by Tom Stocks, holds values close to my heart; fighting to have more equality, diversity and working class actors in the industry, irrespective of background or financial restraints.  It’s one that’s gaining currency and traction, and you’ll no doubt be seeing and hearing more about its campaign in the mainstream media.


This week, they presented one of their regular scratch nights for new writing at Spotlight’s offices in London’s West End on a theme of Mental Health, produced with effervescent energy by Stephanie Silver.  There were 4 x 15 minute pieces on show to an audience for the first time, performed off book by all the cast (including by a last minute emergency stand in – hats off to Chris Sheridan with only 1 hour notice!) and all performers gave their outstanding all.  My focus in this review is to critique the work itself, but without the efforts of all the wonderful actors and directors involved, they wouldn’t have come so vividly to life as they did.  I’ll mention the cast and crew more, but take it from me, they were all brilliant, so take a bow, one and all,  including the ethereal poetic host of the evening, Suzie Gill, who had written some heartfelt, delicate and sensitive poems around mental health – and hope – to bookend the event.


EPISODE by Tanya Loretta Dee

The first play of the night explored our personal and collective responses to grief and what help is offered to those who suddenly find themselves suffering from a mental health issue. The play follows Tracy – a teaching assistant with an obsession for fish and chips only matched in equal measure by her dislike of “bum sex” - through her experience of a psychotic episode after losing a family member.  The device Tanya uses is to draw the audience in through Tracy’s direct address and asides whilst mixing this with narrative snatches that add layers and colour to her experiences – and realisation that she needs help to deal with the grief she experiences following the tragic death of her mother in a car accident.  The clinicians’ responses are to try to dose her up with medications, despite the alarming sounding side effects these might cause until things “get better” – but Tracy is reluctant.  Luckily, she has the love of a good man, Chris (certainly better than her ex by all accounts) to stand (and sleep) by her.  As Tracy’s conditions worsen, we also hear the white noise in her head, a piercing barbed wire of sound that worms its way into her head.   Whilst all this might sound rather gloomy and heavy on paper, there’s much wit and humour in this piece which generated a lot of laughter, which one could argue, is perhaps the best therapy…..?  Terrific work all round and directed with subtle precision by Charlotte Chinn, starring the writer, Tanya Loretta Dee, as Tracy and Chris Sheridan as Chris.


SWEET BABY BLUES,  by Joe Windsor

New mum, played by Sara Lessore, is feeling the incessant and unrelenting pressure caused by the constant crying, crying crying of her new-born child.  No amount of repeated pleading or commands to “stop crying” has any effect at all – the baby just keeps on crying. No wonder, therefore, that a lot of women experience the baby blues, a depressive condition that sets in a few days after childbirth and is often a lengthy prologue to Post Natal Depression.   Our sex abandoned mum can only seemingly find escape in fantasising about all the great, but no-so-good for you foods she could eat and the thoughts of drinking vast quantities of White Russian in the belief this might be a good combination (not) of milk and protein for her breastfed new-born.  Food was, as in the first play, a theme that ran through this piece as a metaphorical escape from the mental hell the female protagonist was existing in. Writer/performer Joe Windsor, isn’t afraid to tackle this difficult topic without injecting humour, himself playing the disconnected voices of reason, antagonism and defeatism in the face of this condition.  It was an unusual technique given that he played several characters, including one, a substance abusing neighbour who had seen her own kid removed by the authorities in a portrayal that could have easily stepped out of a Tennessee Williams’ play.  If you were viewing the piece as naturalism you’d be confused, but for me, this characterisation helped underpin the universality of the condition in that it’s not just something confined to the council house wastelands of Britain.  The other of his characters I felt I had to work a little harder at in understanding who/what they represented but ultimately, his ever present, louche masculine intervention in the narrative seemed, somehow, to heighten the female dilemma.  Sarah Lessore’s tears were testament to the emotional power of the piece.



Robert suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and after 40 years of marriage, his wife. Victoria has had him taken into care.  Robert sits in his chair, like Father Jack without a drink, barking his orders out to her on her daily visits, aware that he’s trapped, that she is somehow to blame for it and that ultimately, he is powerless to resist.  In a rare moment of defiance, he raises himself to his feet, only to fall to the floor where his pride and dignity lay all around him, shattered and in pieces.  But still Victoria shows up, reminding him not so gently of who she is, but also hinting at what she’s put up with during 40 years of marriage; after all, he wanted to go out with Sylvia but Robert was too short for her and had to settle for Victoria.  As his condition worsens, Victoria seems to harden towards him, to the point of disdain – but what Laredo is doing here with skill and sensitivity, is distorting the world that Robert no longer knows but which also represents the reality of the moment that has no foot in the past, nor the future.  My feeling is that this could be developed into a longer work which explores this marriage in more depth, we get enough hints, but clearly something has kept them together, even if that was only a matter of expediency for both parties.  In the ever increasing prison that Robert finds himself locked away, Victoria seems to begin to find her own freedom as she arrives with an ever more expensive shopping bag each visit.  This was a tragic and sad work, gorgeously played by Geraldine Brennan and David Whiting, in which the shreds of humanity were stripped away by both the disease as well as a shared history.



Who knew that a terminal prognosis could evoke so much hilarity? But Dan Pick’s two hander manages to achieve that without losing any sense of the gravity of the two characters’ situation who meet on a palliative care programme for the terminally ill.  They both have three months left to live their lives to the full without reverting to maudlin behaviour or thoughts.  Surprising, really, when Charlie guesses correctly first time that Luke is an estate agent – in many ways he’s very transparent to her and she also rightly guesses he hasn’t told his girlfriend (it’ll give her something to be pissed off about when he’s gone) and yet he harbours his secret – plus the fact the he sleeps with Charlie, and why not?  Perhaps that’s because when they kiss passionately to try and prove it's their attempt to  “stop time” – but of course, we all know it doesn’t, it’s a desperate thought that we all cling onto in the hope of avoiding the inevitable.  The remarkable thing about this piece is that in 15 minutes, Pick delivers the whole package – humour, pathos, bathos, pace and thought-provoking material.  When Charlie finally considers that she might be jealous of her 99 grandmother, a bit of a goer by all accounts, then old age trumps youth, a concept that inverts the fashion.  None of us will live forever, but there was never anything other than a sense of hope that Luke and Charlie may be heading for eternity together and that perhaps their glass was more than half full after all.  Lovely performances by Charlie Bate and Luke Anthony and seamless direction by Kane Desborough.

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