“Barrie offers the majority of light relief throughout the play, her rolling eyes and gurning facial expressions being priceless”
Northern town. Tick. The ins and outs of the local offie. Tick. This may sound like we’re venturing into Open All Hours territory, however, Tabitha Mortiboy’s latest play, The Amber Trap, is far removed from the corny jokes and canned laughter of the former. It’s a modern twist on a staple of British culture.
Things have been fine and dandy in the local corner shop. Everything working like clockwork, the same old faces come shuffling in and out. Katie and her girlfriend Hope have been harmoniously working at the shop for two years, stealing kisses in between the aisles. It’s Katie’s little haven, where she can be her true self with Hope, without anyone watching. This soon changes once manager Jo, hires new kid Michael. As sweet and innocent as the boy seems, he instantly shifts the dynamic of their microcosm, becoming a real cat amongst the pigeons.
Where Mortiboy scores most with this play is her examination of Katie and Hope’s relationship, from the highs of young love to the lows of painful truths. The ambiguous and abrupt ending comes as a deflated anti-climax, which leaves a tinge of disappointment. There are also times where Katie’s actions and motivations are a little questionable, or you feel, as an audience, you don’t quite understand her reasonings, however, Olivia Rose Smith plays her with naturalistic sensitivity and believability that allows you to oversee this.
Fanta Barrie as Hope is fiery, fun and has a gob that can get her into trouble, but under it all is a complete softy, infatuated with her girlfriend. Barrie offers the majority of light relief throughout the play, her rolling eyes and gurning facial expressions being priceless. Misha Butler, playing Michael, is skin-crawlingly odd. His progression from sweet with strange tendencies, to full blown creep with a troubled past, makes it uncomfortable to watch at times, although rather predictable – it’s always the nice ones!
The set (designed by Jasmine Swan) has been painstakingly put together to recreate a decrepit, ageing corner shop we all know and love, stocked with cheap booze, packets of crisps that shouldn’t be sold separately, and sad-looking sandwiches. The intricate detail Swan has gone into helps to suck the audience into the claustrophobic, “matchbox” world of the store.
With an ace soundtrack of pounding Noughties indie tunes, the crackly shop radio plays an integral part in emphasising certain moods of the characters or atmospheres within scenes. Annie May Fletcher’s sound design proves an important component within the overall story.
As strong as the performances and as brilliant as the designs are, the writing is where certain cracks show with much of the dialogue falling back on cliches and predictable outcomes. Nevertheless, it’s still an enjoyable trip down the road for a pint of laughter and a box of unnerving drama.
“A relevant, well-acted play with brilliant story concept. If Wood can work out the kinks in the script, Alcatraz could be a powerful show”
On Christmas Eve, 11-year-old Sandy embarks on a rescue mission: she’s going to break her granny out of the care home where they’ve locked her up. Sandy’s seen Escape from Alcatraz enough times – if Clint Eastwood can do it, so can she. The exasperated head nurse and a well-meaning new staff member are just two of the many obstacles between Sandy, her gran, and freedom.
Alcatraz, written by Nathan Lucky Wood and directed by Emily Collins, questions the state of elderly care in modern society. It’s an excellent premise for a vital topic. A child equating her grandmother’s care home with Alcatraz, and carrying out a plan to rescue her, is a scintillating approach to the social commentary. It’s a promising concept that hasn’t quite reached its potential.
The beginning of the play is confusing. Sandy (Katherine Carlton) monologues about papier-mâché, and narrates her journey breaking into ‘Alcatraz’ while reciting the plot of Escape from Alcatraz. These sections feel as long as it inevitably does when an overeager person is describing their favourite film. It’s difficult to care, and Wood hasn’t given us a reason to. Unless you’ve read the programme (which the script should not require), it’s unclear what Sandy’s doing or where she is. The disorientation creates a sense of detachment: if we don’t know her mission, we cannot be invested in whether she’ll achieve it. Additionally, a child breaking into a prison (or care home) has little stakes. What will happen if she’s caught? A reprimand and a call home. The scenario doesn’t inspire the sort of apprehension necessary to hold interest without any context to support it.
The story picks up when Sandy reaches her gran, and they make their escape. There’s good interaction between the characters and solid acting all around. The adult Carlton is impressively convincing as an 11-year-old. Josh Asaré is charming as flustered trainee-carer Peter. Ellie Dickens brings adept lightness to Donna, Sandy’s grandmother who is suffering from dementia. Although described as “not nice”, Lainy Boyle brings humanity to burned-out head nurse Arden.
The script continues to hit snags. The faltering pace makes the play feel far longer than its 60-minute runtime. An abundance of opportunities for humour aren’t fully capitalised on. There’s an attempt to pack what could be a second full-length play into the final ten minutes: Sandy’s father (Alec Nicholls) is introduced, along with a barrage of information about his relationship with Sandy and Donna, and Sandy’s absent mother. The scene quickly escalates to melodrama that isn’t necessarily earned, considering we’re just meeting the father. We don’t have the connection to him we need to feel his devastation as he confronts his failings. This is an intriguing, complicated family. It’s a shame the play only scratches their surface at the very end.
Alcatraz is a relevant, well-acted play with brilliant story concept. If Wood can work out the kinks in the script, Alcatraz could be a powerful show.