Review: Treats galore from three plays in one night

What is 'Normal'?, staged by Phoenix Theatre
What is 'Normal'?, staged by Phoenix Theatre

Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Age of Asparagus, What is ‘Normal’? and Whisking Eggs at Ilmington Village Hall

Three one-act plays in one evening could be thought a bargain and a formula worth following. In advance of the annual Lighthorne Festival of One Act Plays, three theatre companies served up a preview of their entries into one of the most important events in the am-dram calendar.

Steve Farr’s two-hander on behalf of Stratford Playwrights, The Age of Asparagus, kicked off the evening. Performed by Steve and his son Oskar, it was a short, sharp play about the anxieties of love, death, and the meaning of it all. Dave (Steve Farr) is dying in a hospice. He sits on stage connected to a catheter bag, worried about his ability to function in that way, when Alfie (Oskar Shepherd) appears. Soon we realise that Alfie might not be real, that this could all be in Dave’s imagination. It turns out Alfie is Dave’s son, who died aged twelve, in a swimming pool while Dave was looking the other way. He has remained with him ever since, niggling him with guilt. The Age in question refers to a slip of the tongue spoken by Alfie, which belies a glitch in the matrix that might or might not be reality. It’s a deep but also very funny play, sensitively played and shot through with dark humour.

What is 'Normal'? by Katie Cherry tackled the difficult an unusual subject of acute anxiety, told from the perspective of Bella (Lydia Shorey), a young woman whose transition into adulthood is damaged by an illness that is widely misunderstood and difficult to deal with. Bella’s terror at ordinary social situations and her passionate self-loathing, as well as the blind and sometimes stubborn incomprehension of those around her, were convincingly portrayed. If the play, which was performed by a cast of young actors from Phoenix Theatre, was a little heavy on message it nevertheless spoke movingly about a debilitating and painful condition.

Powerful though these plays were, by this point in the evening it was time for some laughs. And we got them in Jackie Lines’s play Whisking Eggs, Second Thoughts’ entry to the competition. Doreen (Rachel Alcock) has a business as a telephone dominatrix. She must be good at it, because her telephone never stops ringing. But this clearly doesn’t pay the bills because she relies on lodgers. Enter Marjorie (Jane Grafton), wife of the local vicar, who has recently walked out on her boorish husband and is recommended accommodation by Linda (Caroline Whitfield), batty librarian who talks out loud to Mellors, the gamekeeper from Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It doesn’t take priggish Marjorie long to figure out what is going on behind the suburban façade, especially when she meets Doreen’s colourful friend and fellow worker Lady Carrington-Smythe (Margot McLeary). Cue lots of jokes of the English seaside variety but with a female if not a feminist twist. The play reminded me of The Vicar of Dibley and Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads in some of its cosy humour, only with sex toys as props. It sent up the silliness of sexual innuendo with a sly wit.

Entries to the festival, which is held in Lighthorne 5-9 June, come from all over the region and include previous winners of the national competition. Tickets can be booked by emailing lighhornefestival@gmail.com or visit www.lighthornefestival.org.uk.