On a chilly Sunday evening the best place to be needs to be warm, welcoming and have something special happening. A nice beer helps too. So a full list of ticks from me for ‘Scratch It’ and an evening of work in progress from some of Norwich’s brightest young theatrical talents.
We were presented with three works – in all three the writer was also performing, in the first two with another actor, in the third solo. As this is a development process the actors sometimes referred to a script as they went along, but all had clearly spent some time rehearsing the works.
The first piece was Reliance, with writer Martha Loader joined on stage by Huw Brentnall. This dialogue showed the tension and pressure of young people living in London in the current climate. He is thriving in a business climate, and showing off his new but minuscule apartment. She is an aspiring actor, ticking over with a job in the local Wilko store while waiting for her big break. Their carefully nuanced conversation highlights the conflict between artistic ambition and expensive daily living costs, but it also examines the gender and power issues that still dominate many young lives. Both performers gave us believable and complex characters in this well written short play.
The second work, A Tune of Two Muses, was written by Emma Zadow and performed by her with Marie Cooper. The scene is a supposed conversation between two pre-Raphaelite artist’s muses (and wives). Lizzie (Cooper) is the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his former muse, now replaced by Jane, wife of William Morris as the subject of Dante’s latest paintings. Their dialogue examines what it is to be a muse and looks at gender roles in a very different time and culture to our own. Although the pre-Raphaelites were radical and advanced for their time while also harking back to a simpler ruritanian past they had some fairly well defined gender role expectations. 
The conversation also has the edge of some jealousy and distrust, while the two navigate the difficult change in their respective partner’s attitudes towards them. Historical re-imagining is a tricky task, but this is an intelligent and informed speculation about a well known historical group of people. It is a welcome departure from so many accounts of the pre-Raphaelites that focus only on the perspectives of the male protagonists – this perceptive drama gives us an unusual insight into the lives and feelings of those depicted in so many famous paintings that have given many generations of young women an idealised vision of feminine beauty that they are measured against. This drama deals directly with that, suggesting that even at the time the painters depicted an image of their muses matching their own fantasies at least as much as the true image of the models they used. Fantasy in many forms was never far from the mind of Morris, as his rather whimsical lengthy fantastical novels testify. An interesting and thought provoking work which could be developed into a very welcome new perspective on the pre-Raphaelite icons.
The third work was written and performed by Michelle Sewell, who also hosted the evening. Entitled Disney Dysfunction this solo drama gave us an insight into the dilemmas of a young woman from Australia who has come to the end of her visa stay and faces leaving London immediately unless rescued by matrimony by her “Prince Charming’, a boyfriend where the relationship is blurred between romance and transactional pragmatism. She enters stage right with all her luggage ready for the flight back to colonial  conformity just when she has started to relish the London lifestyle. She parallels real life with the Disney fantasy of romance, finding the gap between these two concepts ever larger. The staging involves her throwing her luggage out of the case to re-sort it, giving a humorous diversion to a sad tale. It is a delightful and complete short drama that, like the first piece tonight, gives us an insight into the real lives of the generation now in their twenties and thirties who have very different choices to those of us born a generation or two earlier. This is an accomplished work ready to find a much deserved wider audience.
Thanks to all the performers for giving us some well crafted and thoughtful entertainment, and to the Norwich Arts Centre for giving us once again the perfect end to a Norwich weekend with some cutting edge drama. I am looking forward to the next booking from Hack Theatre who curated this event that showcased local female theatre-making talent.
© Julian Swainson 2017