Review: Newport Playgoers’ One-Act Play Festival – Week 1, Dolman Theatre, Newport

Visitors to Newport’s Dolman Theatre this week get the chance to see the first three presentations from winners of the recent Newport Playgoers Society One act playwriting competition.

Although the notion of presenting three one-act plays on the same stage in one sitting is probably not new, it is certainly an interesting concept. Here, the programme couldn’t be more eclectic, bringing together the inspired writing of three local writers new plays written during the recent pandemic.

The Balloon Girls by Adele Cordner

The one-act play festival begins with Adele Cordner’s drama, The Balloon Girls, a story that has its inspiration in a real-life incident that took place in Newport during a September night in 1940, when a German plane returning from a bombing raid in Ellesmere Port is brought down by a barrage balloon above Belle Vue Park. The incident ends in tragedy when the plane crashes into a family home in Stow Hill Park, killing two teenage children and three German airmen.

The play covers a lot of ground in its half hour as there are several characters involved, the two young balloon operators, Betty and Frankie, two teenagers Malcolm and Myrtle Phillips and a captured German air-pilot Harry Wappler.

The Balloon Girls is immersive as it is insightful, bringing to life an event that many local residents may not be aware happened nearly 80 years ago. The story carries a lot of pace, as the audience are introduced to the characters, getting an insight into their lives during the changing world at war. Newport was not exempt from world events as people bid farewell to loved ones as they go off to fight or advised to put their pets to sleep by the government as keeping pets during wartime was not advisable due to food rationing. Betty and Frankie’s patrol doesn’t go without incident, which cleverly bring together a snapshot of a war where despite any victories, there were clearly no winners.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Balloon Girls. There were some great performances from the cast Marla O’ Brian, Alys Prosser, Matt Clifford, Matthew Fisher, Tia Williams and Keith Poultney, all who brought the script to life. I certainly hope this isn’t the last we see or hear of this play; it has much potential not only as a drama, but as a historical piece which deserves to be seen by many across South Wales.

Thanks For Listening Grandad by Niamh Jones

Next up is Niamh Jones debut comedy-drama, Thanks For Listening Grandad, following a granddaughters visits to a hospital as her Grandfather lays in a coma. The play is cleverly set in the 1970s giving the granddaughter, Tilly opportunity to brighten up the hospital rooms usually subdued atmosphere in a variety of colourful outfits. Tilly’s comedic accounts of her day to her comatose Grandfather seemingly fall upon deaf ears (except those of a disapproving nurse) but take a dramatic turn one visit on the arrival of her sibling, Adam.

Ellen Lowe leads as the eccentric Tilly with interjections from Lynette Collins as the Nurse and a Matthew Fisher’s Adam. David Eynon-Williams Grandad also makes his presence felt, proving that Grandad might be listening after all. A very enjoyable and beautifully observed debut play from Niamh Jones and I look forward to seeing more from her in the future!

Plagued By Doubt by Julia Lewis

Last but not least is Julia Lewis comedy satire, Plagued By Doubt combining the all too familiar scenario of pandemic restrictions with the famous historical event of the outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the mid-1300s.

Thomas Doubt, a humble people carrier come dead body transporter and his family are facing difficult times as the Black Death grips London. The creation of Doubt is a fabulous reminder of brilliant comedy creations Basil Fawlty and Lance Corporal Jones with a touch of Edmund Blackadder thrown in for good measure.  His ignorance in every situation frequently lights the touchpaper for confrontations with his long-suffering wife Edith and teenage daughter, Clara. The arrival of his brother-in-law, the Physician, Gilbert sets the situation further on edge and even a trip out to a local watering hole owned by an eccentric landlady gives room for plenty of satirical refences to our own recent pandemic.

If anything, I found Plagued By Doubt a clever and welcome release and antidote to social media frustrations and one-sided opinions over the somewhat ridiculous newsworthy situations of the last two years. Julia Lewis’ script enables us to smile again and find strength from the humour of satire, as do the incredibly funny performances from Paul Cotton, Tyron Sullivan, Rosie Trueman, Taryn Mayrick, Christopher Maxwell and Ryan Salter (whose medieval Town Cryer news updates were great fun). Although this is a one-act play, I feel Julia Lewis has some wonderful characters here she could build on for further outings, I certainly hope its not the last we hear of the Doubt family!

Certainly, all three plays are worth a few hours of any theatre-goers time and a fabulous example of home-grown talent from cast and creatives combined. A final matinee performance of The Balloon Girls, Thanks For Listening Grandad and Plagued By Doubt takes place on Saturday March 26.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: