Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Stuff @ 24:7 Festival, 20.07.14

Some plays take a while for you to settle in. Stuff isn’t one of those plays.

I don’t know much about Mick Cooper but anyone who can hook you in with three characters in a living room for an hour knows how to draft their writing until it gleams. A lot of the time within fringe theatre the productions are works in progress which gauge a reaction instead of forcing one. Stuff is fully formed as well as expertly nuanced, once again raising the bar for this year’s 24:7 festival.

The story centres on a married couple who are trying for a child without success. The brooding wife Jess, played by Eve Burnley, is excellently cast as is her ex military husband Toby, played by Danny Ryder. He’s a discharged soldier (no pun intended) who gets hot headed when his manhood is called into question and this crisis of masculinity leads him to waiver about parenthood. Jess openly confesses that having kids is ‘the next thing to tick off the list’ and her desperation to achieve her vision tests the relationship to its limits.

IVF is discussed in depth and in one memorable scene the procedure is even mimed by Xav, their close friend who happens to be dying, played by Karl Greenwood in a show-stealing performance. He remains an eternal optimist throughout and beautifully offsets the selfish needs of his friends with his kindness. He offers his worldly possessions as last will and testament and won’t take no for an answer. This also happens to include his Stuff - or rather his shame custard/love gravy/bollock yoghurt - which he gives them ‘first dibs on.’

Due to his lack of self-pity or perhaps due to how wrapped up as a couple Jess and Toby have become, Xav’s illness takes a back seat to their bickering. His tumour dictates when his body clock runs out but that still doesn’t stop the couple airing their parental grievances as if their lives depended on it.

People will get different things from this play which is what’s so great about it. For all the humour involved which made the heavy topics of infertility, and death more palatable, there are pertinent questions ringing around your head when the laughter subsides. When a play can grab you in so swiftly and keep you thinking for days afterwards you know that the writer is a talent worth keeping your eyes on. I’d highly recommend seeing anything by Mick Cooper and this cast. Just maybe give this one a miss if you like tzatziki.

Words: Nathan McIlroy

Image: Courtesy of My Beating Heart Productions

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