Writers: Matthew Smith, David Owen Smith, Louise M North, Ruth Hartnoll, Lucia Cox, Richard Berry
Directors: Megan Marie Griffith, Miranda Parker, Max Shuell, Nick Birchill, Martha Simon
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
The Public Reviews Rating:
Contact Compacts #2 is a great showcase of new writing, featuring six new plays bought to life as part of the new Loungefest at the Contact in Manchester. The Welcome Party opens the show with a strong comedy of manners focussed on people’s discomfort around health issues. Violet Charleson’s performance as Violet captures the well-meaning but clumsy attempts to throw the eponymous party perfectly, handing round crisps one minute and then desperately trying to conceal a banner she’s had made the next. Keir McEwen’s Eric is wonderfully ill at ease with Louisa’s genuine emotional expression. Only Edwina Lea slightly misfires as Pam, but this character has the weakest writing of the four, and she still manages to deliver some solid one-liners.
Sex Therapy features a couple having just that. When they are called Fanny and Dick, you get an immediate sense of the lack of subtlety in the writing. This sketch treads the familiar ground of a suburban couple who have become desensitised to each other and to sex through the huge variety of experimentation that they have undertaken. They both list positions, locations, toys and costumes as if they were reading out a shopping list for the local supermarket. Director Miranda Parker has obviously worked well with Gracie Kelly and Chris Brett to get them to give great performances, but it is a somewhat worn gag that is played out again and again and again.
Walking opens with two women of different races in some sort of science bunker who intriguingly are some form of mother and daughter. The evening’s first straight drama does successfully arouse the audience’s curiosity as we puzzle over how these two women can be related to each other , where they are and who has control over whom. Penny McDonald and Emma Obita both give strong performances but the piece disappoints by ends abruptly with almost no narrative resolution.
Sub/Dom is a clever take on the problems and perils of moving on-line fantasy into real-life enactment. Jess, tired of being at the beck and call of her well-paying boss has hired Rite to be a sub to her. The initial acting out in a cafe makes the audience complicit in witnessing Rita’s humiliation and there are real sparks between Sophie Charleson and Kim Whitly performances, which are vital if this subject matter is going to work on stage. But they also deftly deflate the fantasy and then breath new life into it with a final twist. Director Nick Birchill has found the right balance between the erotic and the embarrassing in a well-judged piece.
How to Tell The Truth is effectively an illustrated monologue, with Sal taking us through her recent loves and losses and the other actors miming or enacting brief scenes or reactions as we go. Stylistically difficult, both Lucia Cox’s writing and Megan Marie Griffiths’ directing pull off the challenge. As Sal, Kimberley Hart-Tompson gives the performance of the night. She is funny, warm, sentimental and down to earth, captivating the audience and letting us see the world through her eyes and acknowledge her truth.
My Robot provides a bromance ending to the night, a slight but amusing sketch about the presence of a mildly-misfunctioning and mostly useless robot in the lives of two housemates. Thomas McGarva as Matt amd Kier McEwan as Patrick provide the necessary blokeiness and banter over the implications of having a male robot to masturbate you is hilarious. McGarva is wonderful at this kind of character making him both repulsive and thoroughly likeable at the same time.
There is definitely an audience and appetite for Contact Compacts. The venue was packed. Perhaps the Contact Compacts could develop something defining about the kind of new writing it presents in future to help differentiate it from the city’s other offerings. As it stands though, every piece has something to offer and cumulatively the six pieces made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.