Two dates, a few months apart but on two different continents, are layered on top of each other. Actor and writer Kate Goodfellow plays herself in both, a bravely intimate portrayal of two seemingly unrelated days, one in Australia and one in the UK. The link between them is the temperature; it is 39 degrees and too hot.
By flipping deftly between these timeframes, Goodfellow explores the moment of the Australian bushfires and the fall out from them, experienced far away, displaced in a flat she hates. Through Joseph Ed Thomas’ dramatic lighting design, the audience are flipped from one moment to the other. At the same time, Goodfellow rapidly changes the frame through which she engages with natural disaster. She veers from the highly personal and individual to the political manifesto, holding forth on domestic politicians and global blindness. This switching is supported by Ruth Newbery-Payton, who plays her visiting sister but also fills in as news readers, horrified bystanders and government officials.
At the focal point of the performance is the beautiful set piece built by Chris Gibbs. A stubbornly hot radiator is flanked by bags for life stuffed with Goodfellow’s belongings. Above these is a luminous and backlit window. The blinds are drawn but the frame glows consistently, providing a dramatic and also flexible backdrop as it simmers red with fire or grey with the piercing light of London. It’s perennially closed blinds makes the space claustrophobic enough to house Goodfellow’s portrayal of mental health crises but also hints at the greater context of these; she is not suffering on a purely personal basis and mental health doesn’t function in a vacuum. Huge decisions made miles away slip in through the gaps in the blinds.
Goodfellow has a lot to balance in this hour long set, and it does sometimes run away from her. There is considerable comedy in the interactions between her and her sister, but the jumps from there to external tragedy and personal disaster are often jarring and uncomfortable. What is aiming for a Fleabag-esque candidness can’t be earnt in the short time and is instead disorienting. This is compounded by writing which is at times clumsy and hammy. Moments of spoken word feel misplaced amongst casual language and the dialogue slips between realistic and stylised too fast and frequent to track.
Despite its tonal issues, Goodfellow has created a hugely vulnerable and timely piece of theatre. The closeness to her own life is keenly felt and means that the audience are willing to follow her through it, even if the road is a little uneven.
“Guyler is most definitely a writing talent to be reckoned with”
Digging Deep is Amy Guyler’s four man play about suicide, which, shockingly, as the beer mats placed on our seats remind us, is the biggest killer of men under 45 in this country. The play centres on 22 year old Mossy and his group of mates. Mossy is done with life – he feels he’s flatlining already and he doesn’t see the point of carrying on – but he doesn’t want to leave his Mum with a costly funeral bill, so he enlists his mates to help him raise £10,000 before he ends it all. Before long, their local campaign goes viral and hits the headlines, the money is raised, and Mossy is faced with the reality of his situation.
Digging Deep is a well-paced, tightly written drama, with an expertly handled and unexpected last minute denouement. Guyler has a great ear, and for the most part the dialogue is eminently recognisable as the comfortable banter common to a group of lads who hang out together a lot. The gags are occasionally overplayed, and the comedic moments occasionally overwritten, but there are a lot of genuine laughs to be had, and Guyler is most definitely a writing talent to be reckoned with, particularly since she is also capable of moving people to tears; two men in the audience last night were completely overcome in the play’s final moments.
Credit must go too to Alistair Wilkinson’s sure-handed and creative direction, and to some terrific performances. Kyle Rowe, as Mossy, is magnetic on stage throughout, with tremendous physical and vocal presence. He is ably supported by Jonny Green – who gives a nuanced portrayal of the sensitive Matt – and Matthew Woodhead, entirely believable as Mossy’s oldest mate Kane. Josh Sinclair-Evans, as Jack, arguably has the most difficult task, and, although his performance makes more sense at the play’s close than it does during its unfolding, Jack’s characterisation still seems somewhat skin-deep in comparison with that of the other three. This is partly owing to the choice to give him a very obvious tic (he played nervously with the tie of his hoodie throughout) which emphasises his external behaviour over what he carries in his body.
The boys’ physicality plays a huge part in this piece; how they move, individually and collectively, tells us so much about who they are. There are some brilliantly directed set pieces – the sponsored onion-eating; the football match; the sky dive – but the subtle physical detail in each performance is almost more pleasing, defining, as it does, the boys so clearly one from the other. They scuff and lounge and strut around the stage, hands in pockets or down trousers, chests out or shoulders hunched, and paint a poignant potrait of the so-often-hidden struggles that so many young men face. Prepare to be moved.