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Image: Invisible Boundaries

The way things are going these days it’s hard to get away from the feeling that this Government might prefer that the arts remain a hobby for people with affluent backgrounds. People who can essentially afford to turn up when they feel like it and work for free. You might be forgiven for thinking that as a long, proud supporter of working class artists and stories that Live Theatre might be consigned to the status of quaint museum if this turns out to be the case. However, Live are fighting back against the dissolution of the creative industries by bringing new writing to your online devices in the shape of short plays.

I suppose it would be tempting for theatres to roll out their big names for this kind of thing in a bid to draw in an audience but Live have stuck to their guns and given a bunch of talented folk a chance to fledge and, let’s face it, reach a wider audience via the internet than would normally be able to fit into the upstairs Quayside theatre space. Plus, they’ve cheekily allowed these plays to run a smidge over the Ten Minutes in the title with most coming in at around fifteen.

Off Peak features Rachel and Liz in a generational confrontation on a train heading north. Rachel’s noisy telephone conversation grates on Liz’s nerves and the two women look set for an awkward journey as Rachel snipes, “Everyone from your generation was a racist and a nonce.” It could all go downhill from here but writer Ellen McNally deftly defuses the situation with some lovely dialogue and sweet twists. Colleen Prendergast as Liz and Megan McKie Smith as cheap gag merchant Rachel strike up a believable relationship as they realise they have more in common than is first apparent and Annabelle Rich does a cracking comic turn as a conductress with a sideline in Quavers.

Niall McCarthy goes cosmic with his two hander Star Fish introducing us to Dan and Laura, a pair of teens struggling to figure out how to present themselves to the world and worrying about how their nearest and dearest see them. Dan finds solace in the vastness of the cosmos and ancient myths but Laura’s more of a grounded girl whose practical common sense isn’t always welcome. As Dan spins off into the sky, Laura struggles to bring him down to earth. The play homes in on teen tumult and the yearning to explore while wanting to remain in the safety and peace of small, quiet places.

The final piece I watched was Sarah Tarbit’s fizzing two hander Invisible Boundaries. Kelly’s whirlwind life is told in two intertwining monologues featuring her childhood sweetheart Ryan. However this is not, in the words of Fleabag, a love story. Kelly and Ryan get lashed, take drugs and basically knock about on the estate for their formative years. The trouble is that Ryan’s family rule one side of the estate and their rivals The Groves rule the other and there are lines that must not be crossed. When Ryan’s brother Darrell is killed not even Kelly can keep him on track. The life of low level estate kids is documented beautifully and without pity but also without condescension and judgement. We all love a good underdog story but the truth is that most people are Kellys, neither wanting much nor expecting much nor receiving it but still able to realise that they have a basic dignity and right to respect. Beautifully performed by Jackie Edwards and Jake Jarratt and sensitively directed by Becky Morris.

There are nine plays currently online and I very much hope they’re going to be seen far and wide. Theatres have to reach out somehow if they have any hope of making it out alive, especially those based beyond the London bubble, but being forced online for a while might just be the thing that helps level the playing field for artists and audiences alike.

Watch Live Theatre’s 10 Minutes To… series online here

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