On the verge of potentially further restrictions in the North East, theatre at Durham University may seem at breaking point. But not in a recent collaboration between Purple Radio and Buttered Toast theatre company, which combines innovation and compelling performances in the space of a short ten minute podcast. Need something to take your mind off of Covid-related shenanigans or university assignments? Then this is the podcast for you.
The two monologues brought to our homes this week were simple, yet enjoyable. It was, in truth, an all-round rather relaxing experience to be transported away from student accommodation, albeit briefly, into these mini tales. Whilst it didn’t require much brain power to engage with these pieces (not much tends to happen in the space of four to five minute monologues, after all) this did not matter in the slightest, as the vocal performances of Thalia Agoglossakis-Foley and Issy Flower carried you through to the end. This really is theatre stripped to its bare bones – no stage, no bright lights or elaborate costumes, no gesture or physicalism, and the minimal in terms of plot – merely the voices of the actors. And yet there was something about this that felt refreshing and innovative, reminding one of the most important aspect of theatre: the performance. Although short and simple, the performances were believable and compelling, and managed to engage without the aid of other drama media (which is no easy feat!)
The first monologue, ‘Ghost in the Kitchen’ (written and directed by Megan Cooper) is about a mother moving into a new house, only to find the ghost of an estate agent lurking behind. Cooper’s writing combines lighthearted wittiness (the line ‘being jolted awake out of thirst – no, that’s not a thing’ was a particular favourite) with a certain level of eerie sombreness surrounding the ghost desperately trying to sell the property. Thalia Agoglossakis-Foley’s voice acting perfectly captured this, combining the light and shade of humour and spookiness in her delivery. From her sudden change of tone when impersonating the ghost, to her soft finish when embracing her daughter, all brought together with a level of uncertainty in her tone, she created a believable character – one whom we could sympathise with as she struggled to come to terms with a supernatural presence in her home.
The second monologue, ‘Cancellations’ (written and directed by Jeff Dunne) centred around the character Sarah Andrews, director of the fictional ‘Transition Theatre’ and the cancellation of their autumn production due to people ‘infecting themselves’ (sound familiar?) Jeff Dunne’s writing hilariously combined the modern day realities of Zoom meetings, whilst also reflecting on theatre as a whole in the time of a global pandemic. The writing captured the teacher-like tone of Sarah Andrews, presented with certain phrases such as ‘a friendly voice’, ‘intense deliberations’ and ‘technical difficulties’ (I was eagerly anticipating the line ‘strange and difficult times’ but, alas, it did not come – for better or for worse I am not quite sure). This ‘friendly voice’ was performed by Issy Flower, whose rising intonation reminded one of a primary school teacher – and it worked well. One of the highlights of Flower’s performance came at the end, when her tone of professionalism faltered somewhat with hints of frustration at the prospect of Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ being adapted to ‘Women of undisclosed stature and gender’ – a witty line captured well with Flower’s delivery. Overall, Flower was very believable – bringing to life the semi-disgruntled theatre director trying to navigate the Zoom meeting world we are now in.
One of the highlights came at the end of the second monologue with the sound editing of Jeff Dunne. Without spoiling too much, the SFX of a door knocking was so realistic – I did, in fact, put my phone down to check my front door, only to discover that it was on the audio. Whilst this was, indeed, slightly terrifying, it was also quite amusing!
If you’re looking for a bit of lighthearted escapism in these strange and difficult times (that phrase again), then these are the podcasts for you. The monologues combined humour with excitement, lightheartedness with danger, comedic writing with fantastic delivery – all in a thrilling ten minute experience.
Check out the Purple Radio Spotify account to listen. Stay tuned for more episodes released every Thursday.
By Josh Goodwin
Image by Lowri Mathias.