“It’s a sunny outlook on a very bleak landscape, but somehow it does the trick”
After singing along to two choruses of ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ with writer-performer Sam Ward and the rest of the audience, my theatre buddy takes her arm from around my shoulders as the lights go up, turns to me, and, smiling blissfully, says, “I didn’t get it.” That’s almost as much as you need to know really.
We Were Promised Honey! is a calmly conveyed confusion: In August 2018 a baggage handler, Richard, stole a plane and, after performing some amazing stunts, inevitably died on crash landing. Ward interlaces this with some very controlled audience participation, and long surreal monologues about what will happen after the play is finished- in five hours most of you will be asleep, in eight hours, one of you will send an email saying, ‘Great, thanks Claire’ before walking into your boss’s office and quitting to become a farmer. In fifty years, one of you will think you’re Jesus. In 500 years, when the sky turns black, one of you will turn to your partner and say, ‘Why does it always end like this?’
The evening is split into three, and before the start of each section, Ward gives his audience a choice: We can sit here in silence until the advertised runtime of the show is over, or, even though you already know it’s going to end badly, you can hear what happens next. I can’t imagine there’s ever been an audience so hive-minded and strong-willed not to say ‘I would like to know what happens next’ so it’s not much of a risk, but it makes the point Ward is, I think, trying to make: Yes, we are all going to die, and the world will eventually end, and one day the last black hole will eat itself and there will be nothing left. But in the meantime, there’s plenty to see and do and say, and we needn’t sit in silence, waiting for the end to come.
It’s a sunny outlook on a very bleak landscape, but somehow it does the trick, and rather than feeling despairing and solemn, the audience leaves the auditorium heartened, in an almost festival atmosphere. Of course, that might not be Ward’s point at all, and maybe I just didn’t get it. But paired with David Doyle’s seemingly godly lighting, Carmel Smickersgill’s contemplative soundscape, and Ward’s smiling self-assuredness, it doesn’t really matter how it’s supposed to end. The point is I enjoyed the journey.
“It’s a decent debut play from Gearty, which shows lots of promise for her as a writer”
Eliza Gearty’s debut play About Money tells the story of a Shaun (Michael McCardie), an eighteen-year-old fast-food worker in Glasgow, who has to balance nights shifts flipping burgers at ‘Tasties’ with caring responsibilities for his little sister Sophie (Lois Hagerty). His minimum wage just about covers the bills, and he relies heavily on best pal Eddie (Matthew Boyle) to watch his sister whilst he works. The stress of the job is overwhelming, and an attempt to have some sort of social life puts everything into jeopardy.
Gearty’s play touches on some really pertinent issues. The minimum wage is a joke – even Shaun’s promotion only gives him an increase to nine quid an hour – in a job with no security, no stability and no real room for any growth. The cost-of-living crisis has an impact on most of us, but Gearty’s play highlights how it definitely affects some more than others. When Hannah relocates from London to join the Tasties team, she’s not fussed about the workplace rules and has no qualms about sticking her middle finger up at the CCTV – even if the franchise manager is keeping a close watch of the footage. Sure, she has her troubles too, but perhaps the job is just a job for her. She needs the money, but her life won’t be torn apart in the same way as Shaun’s will if he gets the sack.
There is some lovely poetry in the writing in terms of motif: eight-year-old Sophie’s interest in space and the stars sees her drawing constellations on the back of chairs, and Duncan Gallagher’s sound design is particularly impressive, an extra-terrestrial quality to the scene transition music which really helps to set the atmosphere and the pace of the storytelling.
Lois Hagerty is a brilliant young performer as little sister Sophie. She has an endearing air of curiosity about her, and her timing throughout is excellent, as is her confident stage presence. McCardie shows off a touching sense of vulnerability as Shaun. We feel really sorry for him and his situation, as he treads on eggshells whilst asking his boss for more shift flexibility. Matthew Boyle plays a very playful Eddie and Isabele De Rosa brings some much needed contrast with her rebellious attitude, promptly switching to concern and care when things start to go wrong. Rohit Kumar does a solid job as the stern franchise Manager; the character is written a little archetypally, but he does well to make him believable and find the layers.
A few parts of the story could do with more clarity, and I think Gearty sometimes tries to cram in too many ideas rather than really digging deep into the play’s major themes. A conversation about work unions only skims the surface, and Shaun and Hannah’s date feels quite unlikely given the stark contrasts in their personalities. We need to see what bonds them and brings them together. There’s also a slightly jarring moment when, after crisis strikes, Shaun and Eddie burst straight into an argument, rather than focusing on the issue at hand. Shaun seems to give up pretty much straight away, which feels at odds with his character.
It’s a decent debut play from Gearty, which shows lots of promise for her as a writer. What maybe lacks in depth of plot is made up for with some strong performances, and the chemistry between all of the characters. Alex Kampfner’s direction keeps the action light on its feet and, overall, it’s a pretty nice way to start a busy day in Edinburgh.
Reviewed 9th August 2022
by Joseph Winer
Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic
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