Manchester Theatre Awards

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Perilous Tales (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Cliff Heaton, Andrew Hudson and Dominic Merrick
LUNA C Productions
The King's Arms, Salford
16 July 2017

The title Perilous Tales and the dripping letters and dark images on the poster suggest that this production is going to be a collection of ghost stories. Actually that is far from accurate: there is no connection between the stories in Perilous Tales other than that the authors met on a scriptwriting course.  

There is a surprisingly old-fashioned feel to the opening tale – Cliff Heaton’s Extant 1918 – which tells of an act of self-sacrifice during the First World War. Major David Worsley (Madison Fijalkowski) is suffering from shell-shock and contemplates suicide to end his misery. Private Carter (Jay Booton), with whom Worsley has a complicated relationship, devises an alternative solution – at his own expense. 

Extant 1918 is highly theatrical, opening with Worsley being haunted by spectres from his past and the figure of death. Whether the audience is prepared to accept a resolution right out of Julian Fellowes which depends on an underling being so devoted to his late lordship that he is prepared to make an extreme sacrifice is another matter. 

There is a complete change of pace for Captive, by Andrew Hudson. Grace (Abigail Ramsdale) is held captive by two intruders with whom she has something in common. One is her former lover, while the other – like Grace – depends on medication to prevent psychotic episodes. 

Cliff Heaton, who directed all of the plays, builds a real sense of potential violence and menace, thanks to a jittery performance from Josh Hart as the tightly-wound Jeff. Author Hudson achieves a genuinely surprising twist, only to throw it away in favour of an inferior shock-horror conclusion. 

Chess is often used by writers as a metaphor for warfare or a means of negotiating a solution to conflict.  Dominic Merrick takes the latter approach in Chess For Princes, Not For Kings arguing that, at the end of the game, it is possible to clear the board and start over. 

After a nuclear war humankind becomes tribal, and Prince Willard (Paul Wilson) hosts a meeting with rival princes and suggests they settle their differences over a game of chess. One can imagine that on the printed page there might have been some interest in working out the various strategies of the players. On stage, however, it lacks tension and simply amounts to watching three actors play chess. It is very hard to become excited over the revelation that one of the princes fibbed, saying he did not know how to play the game.  Chess For Princes, Not For Kings is a very literate play but not dramatically engaging.

Reviewer: David Cunningham