Manchester’s 24:7 theatre festival, which showcases new writing, directing and acting talent, is now in its fifth year, this time staging an impressive 21 hour-long performances across its seven days. For writing and directing team Claire Urwin and Guy Jones it represents a second opportunity to stage their single act play No Wonder in Manchester in just eight months, which, added to its selection for the student drama festival in Scarborough earlier this summer, made it the obvious choice for this 24:7 novice.
While there is no switch from a first to second act it isn’t quite accurate to describe No Wonder as a single act play however, as monologues by its two players, set in different locations, are actually delivered in tandem throughout. For the most part this is achieved via turn-taking, although there are moments of overlap, and it takes the viewer a few minutes to make sense of their two situations.
Mother of six Alison, played by Heather Johnson, sits by a non-visible hospital bed and talks to her unconscious husband, who is in a coma after a serious fall. Their 10 year-old son, Luke (Paul Currie), addresses an imagined audience as he describes his witnessing and understanding of what happened – a series of events which is partially beyond his comprehension and in which he is himself implicated.
The scene is initially further confused in this production by the fact that Johnson and Currie each play way above or below their real age, and are clearly both actually in their early twenties. This is quickly overcome by the convincing and absorbing nature of both their performances however, with Currie in particular demonstrating a striking ability to get inside his character.
Initial disorientation over, I quickly became lost in both leads’ insights into the accident, its effect on them and their emotional and practical attempts to deal with it. Snippets of back story also combine with glimpses of the mother and son’s likely futures to create two rounded and sympathetic characters, Urwin’s script taking us deep into the love, fear, frustration and despair each feels.
If Alison’s ongoing romance with her husband in the context of six children and a life of upheaval and poverty, along with her occasionally poetic language, once or twice rang less than true, this was more than countered by her otherwise naturalistic talking-style, and the device of switching between the two leads seemed to bring them ever closer as a credible mother and son. Each fully engaged the viewer’s attention while in the spotlight with no question of one’s attention wandering to the dormant character, their sharing of the venue’s small stage successfully delivering a compelling and moving experience.
No Wonder is at New Century House until 25 July: www.quaytickets.com.