Writers: Jojo Kirtley, Jane Tonge, Sue Blundell, Anne Haydock, Alan Cliff and Mari Lloyd
Directors: Aelish Michael, Sushil Chudasama and Antony Bowers Smith
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
As a kind of bonus feature to the main event the 24/7 Festival includes Brief Encounters – a free series of monologues performed promenade style. The audience are guided through the Manchester University campus (glad it’s sunny Saturday not rainy Friday) to hear six monologues by four actors.
These celebrate scientific and technical achievements in the Manchester area (which at least makes a change from, say, Joy Division). There is no discernable pattern – some of the monologues feature the actual characters they celebrate while others assess the impact of their achievements in the present day. This sounds worryingly like the grisly heritage style productions hosted by The National Trust in stately homes.
The quality of Brief Encounters shows, however, what The Trust could achieve with a decent script and direction. Alan Cliff’s Four Hundred Yards portrays engineer Joseph Whitworth as the Tony Stark of his day. He encounters a crisis of conscience when the authorities require him to turn his expertise to the manufacture of munitions. Not all of the monologues are as successful. Looking Through John Dalton’s Eyes, Anne Haydock’s piece on the peculiarities of the title character’s sight, requires so much exposition that the impact is dulled.
Treasure by Sue Blundell on the other hand gets the balance right suggesting that Peter Mark Roget’s fascination with synonyms (that gave rise to his Thesaurus) arose from a defensive way of combating depression. Blundell even squeezes in that Roget invented the slide rule – who knew? Some of the more successful monologues demonstrate the lasting impact of the achievements.
Jane Tonge’s enthusiastic Tracing Stars (breathlessly enacted by Ruth Evans) captures the sense of wonder that gave rise to the Lovell telescope. Steph Reynolds steals the show with a contrasting pair of rôles. Jojo Kirtley’s It’s Not for the Likes of Us demonstrates that the sexism endured by scientist Marie Stopes has, in the present day, been replaced by class-consciousness.
Mari Lloyd’s bittersweet Miracle celebrates the achievement of Patrick Steptoe less for the practical application of IVF treatment than for the psychological benefit of the hope that the process offers. Brief Encounters is more than just a novel break from the Festival as you return not just refreshed but also better informed.
Runs until Sunday 26th July 2015