One of the brilliant things about Fringe festivals is the opportunity to see theatre at its most experimental and exciting. Play With Fire productions are a striking example, staging two one-act plays, Contractions and North of Providence, in the space of a single evening at 53Two.
With just two actors per play, minimal props and no scene changes, it was set to be an intense experience.
Play With Fire are a Manchester-based production company delivering original, emotive theatre. An overarching theme of the evening was power struggles in relationships we may take for granted – the struggle of an employee against her manager in Contractions to confrontation between a brother and sister with a dying father in North of Providence.
The evening kicked off with Contractions by Mike Bartlett and directed by Sam Redway, which focuses on how an employee’s obligation to their employer can take over their whole life.
Starring Clare Cameron as the mysterious and name-less ‘Manager’ and Amy Du Quesne as Emma, an increasingly exasperated employee, Contractions is a dark comedy taking place entirely across a desk. If you’ve ever wondered what pushes people to extreme lengths at work or even just feel aware of how competitive it is to even hold onto a job now, this is one to watch.
On one side of the desk is The Manager, who repeatedly calls Emma into the office to ask how she is at work. What starts out as apparent concern, becomes increasingly nosey, with Emma told that her growing relationship with a fellow colleague has to be monitored as a ‘company concern’ – with the manager’s questioning becoming all-the-more intrusive.
Whilst Amy Du Quesne skilfully conveys the battle between Emma’s increasing confusion and struggle to remain ‘professional’, what is particularly effective is Clare Cameron’s absolute deadpan performance in The Manager’s role.
She shows no shame or even emotional interest as she quizzes Emma about her friends, her sex life with another colleague, even for plans for pregnancy – as she says, it is all in the interest of the ‘company’.
A similar theme yet entirely different scenario was portrayed in the second play of the double-bill, North of Providence, written by Edward Allan Baker and directed by Daniel Bradford.
Initially we believe the power struggle between the characters lies in a desperate Carol – played with great conviction and animation by Hannah Ellis Ryan – attempting to get her brother Bobbie to see their dying father.
But Bobbie, played by James Oates who conveys the character’s simmering agitation so well, is plagued by a power struggle of his own.
Two short plays which showed power struggles at their most heart-wrenching and relevant, inviting us to realise the power that we have within ourselves, and the value of the positive connections we have within them.
Both plays also show the effects of relationships often under-discussed and yet so crucial. Rather than romance we see employer and employee explored in the first, rather than a dying dad. In the second, the focus is on brother and sister.
This is illuminating theatre and a refreshing perspective that makes you think long and hard, feeling thankful for the experience. Try it or miss out.
The Play With Fire double-bill Contractions and North of Providence is on until Saturday 29 July at 53Two.