A quality double from Stage 2
Arsehammers & The Year of the Monkey
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham
Now, there’s a
first! The first half of this Claire Dowie double bill is
That’s what a young boy, having overheard his
parents discussing Alzheimer’s, thinks his grandfather has got.
And who’s playing the
young boy? Everybody – all 16 members of the very young cast, with the
story played out on a floor consisting of a board of 16 coloured and
numbered squares. And the way we find out who’s who is by remembering
which square they start and finish on and then check with the numbers on
It’s different – but by the time I had read my
instructions in the studio’s Stygian gloom I had no idea where they all
started. And I became so wrapped up in director Liz Light’s clever
adaptation of the original Dowie monologue that I never even noticed
which squares they ended up on, either.
Fortunately, a swift check with the
director assured me that the tiny waif who sang We’ll Meet Again
almost at the end was little Laura Dowsett. She gave it all she’d got. I
never realised there were so many verses. A precocious little heroine!
It fell to another little lass to utter the most
memorable line – “I know Grandpa is doomed” – in a production which, as
the programme puts it, blows the original monologue wide open. This is a
typical Stage 2 effort – now fizzing with effortless noise and energy,
now a study in concentrated quiet.
The monologue’s sentences have been chopped into
three, four, five, maybe more pieces, and these youngsters know exactly
how their own utterances fit into the grand scheme of things. Each
sentence may indeed have been cut up and generously redistributed, but
on the first night I was not aware of a single pause or hesitation.
Every one of them flowed.
Full marks, incidentally, to the girl who,
realising that a red piece of costume decoration had fallen onto the
floor, picked it up unostentatiously a little while later and carried on
with the action. Not for Stage 2 any silly notion of pretending that
there was nothing there while carefully walking round it.
The second half of the production, The Year of
the Monkey, is an adroit adaptation which tells us what is
going on in the minds of the people involved in a wedding while the
bride’s mother has worked herself into a state of wondering whether she
is actually part of the party.
This is one for the older Stage 2 members. It’s often raucous, at one point giving itself over to a collection of characters who become caricatures in a mockery of life’s falsities – but it also takes us to a funeral at which the shouting has given way to an intensity of whispers.
There’s an exchange between the two waitresses –
Sophie Bowser and Ella Otomewo – involving an alarm clock. There’s a
hectic interlude involving much rushing from one side of the studio to
the other in a continuous exchange of seats. We learn of “collective
loneliness concentrating our minds in on ourselves” and we’re sure this
has significance – but I am distracted by the realisation that it is not
the kind of philosophy I customarily associate with youthful thespians.
It’s the sort of thing that Stage 2 is ever likely to bounce at you.
Throughout, the bride’s mother (Charlie Reilly)
is either onstage or about to be there – and when she is there, she
commands it in an admirable performance.
It is an exciting double bill, about which I have
one reservation. The audience sits on three sides of the action, but
there is a point at which the only two people involved sit and face
upstage, where there is no one to see their faces, while behind them is
more than a third of their audience, listening hard but looking at their
Nevertheless, it’s another success for the Stage
2 scrapbook – and both plays will be featured at the BFAME Festival.
Arsehammers will have a rerun on Monday, February 21, and The
Year of the Monkey on Friday, February 25. Then, with just a slight
change of mood, comes Romeo and Juliet in the Crescent Theatre’s
main house from April 20-23.
The current excitement runs to 15.1.