A rehearsed reading of Jim Cartwright’s newest play ‘Is there anybody there?’ was performed in the New Adelphi Theatre on the 22nd March. Directed by the acclaimed Anthony Banks (The Girl on the Train, Gaslight et al); the evening’s performance was a mixture of rehearsed performance and a sit down reading, both sections with script in hand. Jim Cartwright is a Lancashire-born playwright who has won awards for plays including Road (1986) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (1992). His plays have previously followed characters defined as being ‘working class’ and tales of drama and life struggles but mixed with good humour. His newest play is no exception.
‘Is there anybody there?’ follows four northern women working zero-hour contracts as cleaners for an organisation’s large, swanky skyscraper. The actors helped highlight the idea of everything taking place in a multi-story building by disappearing on and off stage during conversations to go and ‘clean up floor five’, which helped the act flow like a natural work scenario. The first few minutes of the play really set how light-hearted and enjoyable the comedy side of the play was going to be. With main characters Joy (played by Claire Sweeney) and Dawn (played by Wendi Peters) singing to each other and harmonising ‘Flash’ by Queen when chucking cleaning spray bottles between themselves. It set the picture that the team of cleaning ladies were a close-knit bunch.
As the play progresses and discusses themes of morality and the supernatural, lead character Joy finds that a spirit guide named ‘Chief’ can appear to her during inappropriate moments. This leads to her panicking about her mental state being affected by working long, stressful shifts. Chief is played excellently by John Gordon Sinclair and his character was very funny and fantastically performed.
Wendi Peters’ performance as Dawn was the highlight for me, continuously making me laugh and being a great voice of reason as the narrative progressed. I also enjoyed the performances of Elexi Walker and Catherine Tyldesley as they both had strong stage presences. At one point Catherine’s character began to sing (no it didn’t randomly transition into a musical – this was part of the humour) and I was blown away by how incredible her voice was! Jim Cartwright himself also stood in for characters that will eventually be played by Cold Feet star John Thomson. Cartwright did a fantastic job on the night.
The play was incredibly written and what was really amazing is the fact that students from our university actually helped make the set! Various set pieces for different scenes including bus stops, school toilet cubicles and the office the cleaners worked in were all created by TV, Film and Stage Design students and they did an impeccable job – I would have completely believed it was professionally-hired set from an external company! But it was so refreshing to see a play brought to life by the hard work of students. Their work really did bring it to life as well as students who assisted with lighting and technical aspects backstage. So, a massive round of applause to them. 👏😍
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed the night and considering this is my first experience watching a play by Jim Cartwright, I have come away a fan of his work. I feel the play was incredibly written, although the energy did fall at the end of the show when the actors moved from using the stage to sitting in a circle and reading from script. However, that is to be expected and doesn’t change the great quality of the script and even whilst sitting down the entire cast managed to keep up great performances. Claire Sweeney did a great job portraying Joy’s emotional journey of understanding herself and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Joy’s story.
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