I am very fond of Theatre 503. I may have mentioned this before. The standard of work they put on is consistently high and, just within the last year, I’ve seen some startlingly good stuff there: George Gotts’ Cocoa, Stephen Brown’s Future Me and Jason Hall’s GBS. Having said that, I have been rather pathetic in getting over there of late and, much to my shame, missed Ben Ellis’ The Final Shot entirely. I was back there last night though, this time to see John Donnelley’s Songs Of Grace and Redemption
The play focuses on a number of characters whose lives intersect: an Icelandic bartender with a violent ex. A none-too-bright thug for hire with a learning disabled sister. A social worker in an unhappy relationship. A chap whose wife has just left him for his own father. It has its fair share of nicely comic moments, some very funny indeed (I certainly will find it difficult not to snigger next time I hear the word ‘crumble’) but often it felt quite heavily derivative – especially in a scene where one character tries to coerce another into shooting him - I felt I had seen near-identical confrontations before.
Despite some good performances, the coincidence-driven narrative really struggled to take shape on stage, I thought. It felt forced and ungainly. Lyn Gardner said it felt like “a pilot for a Channel 4 series” but actually, what I was reminded of again and again, was the wave of low-budget indie cinema that bubbled up in the mid 1990s, films that can be loosely grouped under the banner ‘starring Steve Buscemi’. Night On Earth, Living In Oblivion or Richard Linklater’s Slacker. Something of that ilk. Indeed I heard someone mention Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes in the bar afterwards so this impression wasn’t mine alone.
I’m sure someone, quite probably someone called Andrew, could weigh in with some lengthy thoughts about theatre that - at least appears to - take its primary creative cues from other media. I just know, in terms of this play, that while my attention was held throughout, I was aware of a creeping need for something more solid, for these characters to be linked together in a more organic fashion and for their stories to lead somewhere a little more unexpected. I think Donnelly has real ability as a writer, but I was just too aware of the mechanics of the writing – and, when one of the characters died, my first thought was “well, I figured one of them wouldn’t make it to the end” which is not what I want to be thinking or feeling at such a juncture. It was however the first play I’ve seen that used Facebook as a narrative device, which I found genuinely interesting.