Review – Trapped: 12×8 and String – Little LTF at St Luke’s Church

Daniel Cassidy and Mary Savage in 12x8 – photo © David Munn

TRAPPED is a double bill of two short plays by Oliver Back, each of which is a two-hander. The bulk of the show is occupied by 12×8, followed after a brief pause by its much shorter companion, String.

12×8 is set, as the title suggests, in the confines of a small bedsit, occupied by brother and sister Tom and Sally, played here by Daniel Cassidy and Mary Savage. As the play opens Tom is concentrating on a large mud castle that he’s building on the table, immediately calling to mind Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters. This visual cue sets an uneasy atmosphere for a story that reveals increasing layers of the supernatural as it progresses.

It’s soon clear that the pair have been mourning the loss of their mother. What’s more mysterious is the reason that Sally is so insistent that Tom remain within the confines of the flat. When she discovers he has been out to get the mud for his project (taken it seems from the mother’s grave) she becomes increasingly concerned that someone might have seen him.

Moments of anxiety for Tom trigger episodes of mental activity for him that appear to make the room shake, accompanied by threatening sound effects. The lights flicker and the kettle blows a fuse, but that doesn’t stop Sally making the tea, because Tom’s condition is clearly able to make more than his blood boil. Whatever it is that sets this pair apart from the world isn’t just Tom’s domain though, and as we reach the climax of the piece we see that Sally too has more than the usual mind-power.

The stage is cleared of scenery and we are taken by the soundtrack into a semi-derelict building, by the dripping of water and the squeaks of vermin. Liam Powell-Berry enters from the rear of the auditorium, his confident stride and sharp suit, as much as his insistent shouts, telling us that he’s a property developer. He has come looking to meet with the building’s owner, but they are nowhere to be found. The arrival of Thomas Galashan’s eccentric caretaker sheds little light on the owner’s whereabouts, but we begin to get our suspicions. The caretaker seems to have more care for what the building has been rather than what it might become, and as he swills whiskey from a bottle that he carries in a birdcage, any hopes that the property developer may have of leaving with his dignity (or anything else for that matter) unscathed dwindle fast. And what does the caretaker intend to do with that yo-yo in his pocket?

Galashan has a plum of a character to play here and gives it some serious welly, obviously relishing the short but tightly written part. Powell-Berry is left to dissemble rapidly from swagger to supplication as things spiral into territory he really hadn’t bargained for.

Naughty Corner Productions and Silent Gutter have joined forces to stage this pair of works, and bring a familiar surrealism to them both. The temperature of the two pieces is very different, but they share an offbeat quirkiness, and both take wry fun in unnerving their audience. Directing 12×8, Emma Turner succeeds in building tension gradually over something just short of an hour. Mike Dickinson follows this by putting his foot on the craziness pedal to turn the emotional screw more tightly in the bare 20 minutes of String.

Trapped may not answer any questions except that of how long is a piece of string, but it certainly leaves the audience with a head full of new things to ask themselves.

Review by Nigel Smith