Never has the truth of the old adage “the show must go on” been pushed more than during the strange times we now live in, but with their latest writing project Saplings 2.(0)LINE, Bloom Theatre have managed to workshop and perform four stellar new plays without a stage or any physical interaction.
The first play is called “Girls Just Want to Have Funds”, the most ambitious take on the virtual nature of the project, taking place over the two character’s computer screens. The story unfolds over Messenger, Skype and Snapchat, and we’re cleverly given additional characterisation through online messages, usernames, folder names and so on. The story itself focuses on two very different women, Florence and Mabel, and Mabel’s plan to get rich quick through selling her virginity online. The story touches on the dangers and morality of sex work and money, as well as female jealousy, friendship and identity. The characters have so much depth and are charmingly brought to life by the actors, but the arc of the piece cries out for a longer runtime. I would love to see a full length play with these characters.
The second play is called Us and Them, another play with just two actors, but this time both perform to a stationary camera, simulating the two actors sitting next two each other in adjacent toilet cubicles. The two actors play police officers in 1953, who after a run in with two ‘nancy boys’ reveal their true feelings about each other. It’s a very simple concept and set up, but this adds to the piece’s raw intimate exploration of the history of the legal, societal and personal confinement queer people have dealt with. The performances are great, especially Joshua Glenister who nails both Officer Tommy’s hypermasculine bluster and his moments of tortured vulnerability.
The longest piece is Paper Cuts, which deals with Will, a gay man with a passion for trains who struggles with his recent diagnosis of HIV. Though the story takes place from his diagnosis and parts are told through flashbacks, the story chiefly takes place in a virtual support group. The story is knowledgeable and respectful of the history of HIV in the LGBTQ+ community and how far we’ve come, as well as the enduring stigma of the virus and its effect on relationships and mental health. This piece also has such a rich setup that I would love to see a longer play to find out where this story goes next.
SAPLINGS 2.(0)LINE ends with Earthlight, a 9 minute monologue from the point of view of the first woman in space who despite her exceptional circumstances deals with some timely and relatable emotions of loneliness, guilt, and figuring out what’s important in life. Melissa Philips’ performance perfectly encapsulates a woman in conflict between her very human desires for freedom and family and the grander ideals of science and what her achievement represents.
All four plays feel like exciting and innovative pieces of theatre. Though it’s difficult for the pieces not to very occasionally groan under the weight of the demanding restrictions they had to be made in, the excellent quality of the writing and the performances all around leave just as much of an impact as a live show.