One-act plays are the theatrical equivalent of a short story and require the same rules to work. Character and plot development must rely on established shorthand and the drama needs a twist. In the monologue Turning The Handle, Philippa Hammond portrayed an artless Edwardian lady recalling life and love in front of an early cinematograph, apparently never quite realising the effect of loosening draperies on her audience. It was a charming solo turn, written and directed to be beautifully out of kilter by Thomas Everchild.
You know I had that Bertrand Russell in the back of my cab once, and I asked him well what’s it all about, and you know he couldn’t tell me.’ Maybe it’s urban myth out of stand-up; it probably happened.
There’s a couple of 2005 radio plays by poet Sean O’Brien exploring that perennial British fantasy: a working cabby or labourer confronted with a philosopher who then doesn’t just out-argue them, but shows a thorough knowledge and grounding in their works.
Whilst the mythical cabby pops the question our common sense wants to ask of inductive reasoning, and trounce it, O’Brien takes his cues from historical events. Everchild delights in that perennial the cabby bit does something else again: brings a sexual dynamic: man-in-the-street put-down meets chat-up.
Philippa Hammond is beautifully priggish, asking directions to the conference. Everchild works this out, the science one. He begins questioning Hammond simply, and Hammond does a fine job of registering off-hand impatience gradually assaulted by Everchild’s gift of chirpy petulance, nagging and irritating Hammond into losing her temper but not her reason: she can’t shut down the cabby’s maddening rationality. Each question builds up questions of stellar singularities and astro-physics, which Everchild increasingly shows he understands well in outline. Hammond’s character drops hauteur for mild outrage, but is hooked; her training, initially dismissive of stupid questions, can’t cope with left-field informed ones. This sparring reaches a catharsis and an unexpected (hoped-for) conclusion.
It’s a perfect ten-minute play, ideal for radio like Lancefield’s. Lighter by far in tone, it’s packed with clever interrogatives and leaves us a bit more enlightened on astral physics as well as cultural sexual politics.
Sussex Playwrights Reviews