Manchester Theatre Awards

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Contractions /North of Providence (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Edward Allan Baker and Mike Bartlett
Play With Fire Productions
53Two, Manchester
26 July 2017 to 29 July 2017

Play With Fire Productions offer a double bill comprising two completely different one-Act Plays.


 Mike Bartlett’s Contractions is a jet-black satire that pushes the current corporate culture of employee exploitation to its final filthy conclusion. Emma (Amy Du Quesne) works for a company that micro-manages her personal, as well as her professional, life. In a series of meetings with her superficially caring manager (Clare Cameron) Emma is advised how it is reasonable that, for the sake of the company, she should accept restrictions on her social and love life. Initially the demands of the company are so extreme as to be almost amusing but events soon take a turn for the dark and psychotic.


Bartlett sets a frighteningly persuasive tone. In a culture of zero hours contacts and wage stagnation it is only too credible that employees should be expected to accept surveillance of their activities and restrictions on their personal life. It is a finely paced script moving from a slightly exaggerated humorous tone to full-blown horror.


The simple set-up of a stark interview room without any distractions allows Director Sam Redway to build an atmosphere of gathering hysteria. You can sense the insanity bubbling under the tense surface with the occasional remark like ‘’ Do you bleed?’’


Clare Cameron is in full Theresa May mode: condescending, utterly indifferent to the effect she is having upon employees and, worse of all, convinced she is doing the right thing. Amy Du Quesne shows the full human cost of trying to adjust to a culture that treats people as it they are replaceable cogs in a machine.  You can feel the net tightening around Emma as Du Quesne movies from mild rebellion through bafflement and finally succumbs to the insanity with tightly controlled restrained movements as if she does not dare release her emotions.


Edward Allan Baker’s North of Providence is a complete contrast – brash, loud and with emotions on full display. Bobbie (James Oates) is a failure – unemployed, living with his parents and dependent on his father for anything like a social life. But he has failed to notice that his father’s liver is failing and resents that his sister Carol (Hannah Ellis Ryan) has stepped in to have their father hospitalised. As their father nears death Carol visits Bobbie to try and persuade him to go to the hospital but their conversation takes an unexpected turn and revisits an unresolved trauma.


Director Daniel Bradford sets a depressing seedy background for the confrontation – perfect for a character like Bobbie who has pretty much wasted his life. There are few surprises in the script – it moves in straight line along expected routes and the guilty revelation is easy to anticipate.


The success of the play is, therefore, dependent upon the actors; a challenge to which they rise with style. James Oates and Hannah Ellis Ryan are completely convincing as siblings – bawling at the top of their lungs and constantly criticising each other. Hannah Ellis Ryan has an almost evangelical zeal as she tries to influence her wastrel brother and James Oates is able to suggest the guilt that has been pushing Bobbie towards his self-punishing shambolic lifestyle.

Reviewer: David Cunningham