Flat 73

A one-hour play with music about loneliness and the Samaritans.
Good Samaritans required: Human Story Theatre's Battersby Buildings
The Old Fire Station, Tue 4 October - Sat 8 October 2016

October 10, 2016

I have seen a couple of performances by the Human Story Theatre group, or at least half of the cast under the guise of SatMatCo, so I went into Flat 73 with high expectations of both the writing and performances. Sub-titled 'A one hour play with music about loneliness and the Samaritans' one might say it's not really the high-octane Saturday night viewing that one might find in the local multiplex, but the (sadly small) audience at the Corn Exchange in Witney were treated to another brilliant show from this new and very talented troupe.

With a minimal set, costume and lighting the company provides accessible performances surrounding issues of health and social care. Flat 73 focuses on a block of flats where, as is the way in modern society, nobody speaks to their neighbours, and each of the four tenants we are introduced to is battling their own kind of loneliness. There's Beryl (Gaye Poole), who was widowed about a year ago and hasn't seen her daughter in that time, despite leaving her voicemail messages. Then we have Simon (Kevin Tomlinson) a young man with learning disabilities who was recently sharing his flat with someone who has had to move into a care home. There's also Chelsea (Abigail Hood), a single mum struggling to cope with baby Albee on her own, and finally Laura (Amy Enticknap) who works for The Samaritans but is plagued by her own demons, which the audience is informed of through flashbacks during the show.

While the subject of loneliness may not be one that would immediately pique the average theatre-goer's interest, I would urge everyone to keep an eye on this theatre company. They bring difficult subjects to life and provoke discussion on ways in which they can be tackled. The show was brilliantly performed, with three of the cast switching smoothly between different characters. Kevin Tomlinson, who also directs, is a ray of sunshine as Simon, and I was literally beaming up at him everytime he got up to do his S Club 7 'flashmob', or at least try to. Each of the performances of the main characters broke my heart a little, so real was their portrayal of the loneliness they were experiencing. Amy Enticknap's portrayal of Laura was spellbinding and heartbreaking, as we see her as she is now and begin to understand why her life has taken this turn.

The live music was provided by ARne Richards and provided a lovely richness to the performance, accentuating the mood of each scene and providing an extra sensory layer to the performance. With a Q&A session with the cast and a guest speaker from Age UK at the end of the show, overall this was a very interesting, enlightening and ultimately heartwarming performance.

October 6, 2016

It's difficult to do 'awareness theatre' without it coming across as being preachy or moralistic, but sometimes a story – just a story about a normal person – can encapsulate the intricacies of an issue with more sharpness and immediacy than any leaflet or billboard. Enter Flat 73, Human Story Theatre's production on the topic of the Samaritans, the widely known organisation which runs phonelines and services for people at risk of suicide. In this play, we are permitted an up-close look at three ordinary people – Simon, Beryl and Chelsea, whose lives coincide with all of them calling the Samaritans – and a volunteer at the service, Laura.

When we collectively envisage the average caller to the Samaritans, we might picture an individual on the other end of the phone who is sobbing at the edge of a cliff, and while this may be true in some cases, Flat 73's central theme seems to be loneliness. We meet three people whose circumstances have shifted so that they have become isolated and have no one else to talk to, and it demonstrates how they can be brought together and have their lives turned around by something as simple and as magical as human contact.

It also gives the audience a perspective into who is answering these calls, what life is like for a Samaritan, and the shocking emotional toll it can take on a person who feels as though they have the weight of the world's problems on their shoulders. There is a particularly touching moment where Simon is on the phone to Laura the volunteer and, remembering his manners, asks her how she is doing. Laura's surprise reveals that no one has asked her this in quite some time, and the tiny way she allows herself to open up to him has huge impact.

The staging of this piece was truly impressive, managing to invoke the boxy smallness of an inner-city block of flats on stage using only a few frames, boxes, and important personal items held by each character. Its use of sound and music took the tone of the piece back and forth from hope to despair very convincingly, as well as the ever-present ringing of the phone running throughout. By the end, the audience was utterly drawn in and touched by the stories of these individuals and the importance of them having someone to talk to. This drama is thought-provoking, discussion-launching, and certainly for me, donation-worthy. As Simon said, "nobody should have nobody".

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