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Image: Sheltered

Writer Mandi Chivasa has a passion for telling stories centred around women, and a gift for it too. Set in Zimbabwe, her ten-minute play, Amai Vangu – My Mother tells Moyo’s story of growing up in a home that does not feel like a home, a place of fear and menace, lacking in love and compassion. The woman she calls Mother does not seem like a mother at all – more of a witch, “an actual witch” who delights in humiliating and denigrating this impressionable little girl.

So movingly performed by Shvorne Marks, this bold and beautiful poetic monologue is built on this bewildered young girl’s painful memories, as she tries to work out what she had done wrong, what she had done to deserve this treatment. The poetic techniques are all there – the rhythm and repetition, the similes and metaphors – but it does this exquisite piece of writing no justice to analyse it in this way. Amai Vangu – My Mother is a work written from the heart and delivered from the heart that speaks into the hearts of anyone fortunate enough to see and hear it.

Distant birdsong accompanies Moyo as she walks through that gate one last time. The close-up on her face as, in a moment of revelation, she starts to regain memories that her mother had tried to make disappear, reveals all those feelings she folded away so carefully into her suitcase.

I already want to watch this again – such is the magic of these two incredible women.

Sheltered is a filmed audio play, complete with live sound effects and lighting. Three women stand at separate mics, with a guy in the background boiling a kettle, opening a First Aid kit, unzipping a coat and creating requisite door noises with a metal box. Apart from this guy busy in the background, the action is static, so the tale is all in the words. North East theatre maker Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock’s script deals with a daughter Ruby’s awkward revelation to her puzzled mum Vicky, that she’s forced to make when an unexpected visitor joins them in their air raid shelter.

There’s an air raid taking place over Northern England and the sirens and rumblings and bombs create a tense backdrop for this equally tense conversation. Vicky refers back to the last time Britain was bombed, remarking “It would have been a lot worse back then.” That gets me wondering how it would be to be at war, to have curfews and restrictions about where you could go and the threat of impending danger…and then realise that’s a story for our time, and that all that matters in the end is love.

Performed by Judi Earl, Jude Nelson and Francesca Tomlinson, Sheltered skilfully blends the mundane and trivial (playing Monopoly), the meaningful and honest (think ‘special Monopoly’) and the existential context (imminent death) to create a ten minute piece to savour with a cup of strong tea and a couple of Rich Tea biscuits.

Noël Coward described his 1940s comic play Blithe Spirit as ‘an improbable farce’. How would he then have described John Hickman’s re-imagining of this hilarious yet cautionary tale? Set in Blyth – naturally – Blyth Spirit centres around Matty’s yearning to reconnect with his dead mum. It’s a tender time for this vulnerable young man, served up with lashings of farcical behaviour from Ian, the eccentric medium and clairvoyant inspired by Ghostbusters 2 and The Flying Pickets’ Only You.

So it’s improbable, yes. For a start, Matty’s lounging on an improbably small sofa in front of the table that moves in response to Ian’s prompts. And then the whole play is only ten minutes long. How can a writer develop a storyline, let alone believable characters in only ten minutes? And yet it works. Performed by Adam Donaldson, Mitch Donaldson and Serena Ramsey, the characters do reveal complexity, particularly Matty and ex-girlfriend Georgia as they try in their own limited ways to work out where it all started to go wrong.

The action really kicks off in an unexpected twist when Ian leaves the scene, admitting failure. But has he really failed? No one really comes back from the dead, do they? And if they did, what would you say to them? What would you want from them?

Be careful what you wish for.

It’s a great script with plenty of laughs and plenty to think about. Improbable or not, that’s for you to decide.

This is Gosforth, not Amsterdam”. A local setting, a local writer, local actors: a great place to start.

Bill can’t move on, that’s the problem. This house and garden are a place of love and happiness. They need to be loved and cared for, as he and his dear wife loved and cared for them. “Do you love this house?” he repeatedly asks new owner, Sam. She doesn’t seem to care about the begonias and gutter weeds as much as he does.

In this ten-minute play Gutter Weeds, Newcastle actor and writer Benjamin Storey has created a poignant tale of an awkward encounter set in that tender place where sad endings and new beginnings collide. Performed by local actors Donald McBride and Samantha Neale, the characters move through a wide range of emotions, with a sprinkling of humour. Sam is suspicious of this previous owner of the house she finds lurking in her garden, but warms to him, feels sorry for him – and yet has to find a way to be firm with him.

Observing social distancing and delivering a stage play online raise difficulties but director Graeme Thompson makes the most of the opportunities that filming a play can offer: the close up shot on Bill’s face when the music changes to Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By, for example, fills the whole screen with the depths of his raw grief.

It’s good to connect emotionally with someone other than my dog.

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

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