Now in its fourth week, the National Theatre of Scotland’s collaboration with BBC Scotland continues its high-energy output. This trio includes a combination of monologues and brief theatrical pieces by May Sumbwanyambe, Michael John O’Neill, and Tena Štivičić.
Joseph Knight is a very short but incredibly impactful excerpt from Sumbwanyambe’s new play Enough of Him. The full play explores the life of Joseph Knight, an African slave brought to Scotland from Jamaica by plantation owner John Wedderburn to serve in his Perthshire mansion. In this scene, however, Patrick Martins’ Knight describes his transatlantic voyage and the beauty of the ocean to his white companion, Annie (Emma King). Martins is mesmerising as the eponymous Knight, heartbreakingly emotive in his delivery as he struggles with inner turmoil and tries to withhold the horrors he experienced from Annie.
King too gives a strong turn as a woman dismayed with the simplicity of her quiet and idyllic life in Scotland, completely oblivious to the trauma Knight has experienced. While her appearance is brief, the chemistry between the two is palpable and gives great hope for the full play when it is eventually staged. Smartly filmed in two different countries using the ground as a neutral backdrop, the scene is almost flawless in its editing. It is a brief but powerful affair made all the more pertinent due to current debates raging about Scotland’s history with the slave trade.
Sore Afraid sees Maureen Beattie’s Naula as she regales the audience with her experiences of nosily watches her neighbours having sex up against the windows. It’s an initially comic scene as Naula relays the discussions that she’s had with her husband and picks up on the small idiosyncrasies that denote a shift in relationship between the neighbours – from initially enthusiastic to bored. However, as the monologue progresses, and the audience becomes aware of the source of Naula’s fixation, the scene quickly becomes heartbreakingly tragic. Beattie is superb in this role and her transformation into someone wracked with grief makes for a deeply emotional exploration of an individual’s attempt to process loss.
A witty and endearing homage to lockdown creativity – or a lack thereof – Tena Štivičić’s Wednesday represents a radical departure from the more sombre scenes that have preceded it. This socially-distanced two-hander also doubles as a depiction of something numerous couples will likely have been through in the midst of the lockdown. Douglas Henshall and Morven Christie star as an unnamed, married couple who reach fever-pitch with one another after Henshall performs a monologue written by Christie. The pair trade barbs, with Christie’s work serving as the catalyst by which the characters express frustration with one another’s habits; ultimately becoming closer as a result. Unfortunately, there are some audio issues (especially with Christie) that hinder the piece somewhat, although this is perhaps to be expected from a piece that tries so hard to maintain social distancing in both its performance and production. Thankfully it doesn’t detract too much, and if you make sure your volume is turned up, then all should be fine. In doing so, they will find a very human piece – aided by realised characters that are instantly recognisable and likeable – despite the ten minute runtime.
Once again, Scenes for Survival delivers a collection of enthralling and inventive pieces of theatre that are well worth checking out.
The National Theatre of Scotland’s Scenes for Survival are available to watch here