Painkiller Theatre’s latest project, the Bitter Pill podcast, has been created for us theatre-lovers in our time of need, as lockdown continues to keep theatre doors shut. The company’s offering of a new short play every fortnight, far from a bitter pill to swallow, is an antidote to streaming fatigue; a tasty morsel of quality writing in a bitesize format requiring just the attention of your ears and a dose of the imagination.
In A Case of Mistaken Identity Michael is joined, unwillingly, by a larger-than-life stranger on a park bench. A stranger with a “Ruffled prominence of a forehead that wouldn’t be out of place in an American National park”, and a sinister message. This must surely be a case of wrong-place-wrong time? But Michael is quaking in his boots. This engrossing vignette is a darkly comic look at the absurdness of mistaken identity and public space; a place we remember so well!
By keeping to a purely audio format, Painkiller can pay more attention to the quality of the sound production. It’s rewarding to hear it done properly, to a professional level, by Marcus Rice. Plenty of grunting and heavy breathing gets us up-close-and-personal with Michael’s strange encounter, perhaps a little too close for comfort (especially if you have headphones on!). This without a doubt feels like a full, corporeal performance from Toby Jones and Owen Teale, not simply a read-through.
Max Elton, co-founder of Painkiller Theatre in 2015 and director of the piece, is a relatively new but well regarded director on the London fringe (Plays at the Finborough, Orange Tree and Soho are among his credits) but Gus Crotty is fresh out of the starting gate in the theatre world. He may have seventeen novels under his belt, as well as short stories, but this is a new form for him and one that suits him well. I am sure he is not the only writer experimenting with form at this time and Painkiller Theatre are doing a great thing by providing a platform for the flurry of work being produced as a result.
Any writer can submit their work to the podcast, and if selected will receive a prize of £150 as well as have their piece produced. The company are open for submissions once a month (this month from today, 1st June to the 4th) and produce a new play once a fortnight for eager ears.
I understand the plan is to stage some of these audio works when the time is right, which will be something to look forward to and one for our empty diaries, but for now sit back and let your imagination fill in the blanks. I believe it is rarely a bad thing to be left wanting more.