“We need stability, not creative parenting”
If there’s one thing theatre loves, it is plays about theatre itself. You can find the likes of Red Velvet and Nell Gwynn in the West End right now but in the more vibrant land of the VAULT Festival, Freddie Machin is presenting his own contemporary take on the issue in Don’t Waste Your Bullets On The Dead. Feisty and fresh, it feels like ideal festival fare, bulging at the seams with exuberant imagination.
Theatre director Ellen Billington has been struggling to find work and her personal life is suffering too with lovemaking with her partner strictly regimented to ovulation cycles. When a chance encounter with an old colleague and a playwriting competition results in a swift commission and temporary escape to a backwater Massachusetts town, she thinks all she needs to do is let inspiration do its work but life, and art, are rarely that simple.
The muse that strikes her comes from a reputed familial connection to the Mayflower and so her play centres on two pilgrims venturing through 1620s America and Machin does a great job in showing how the occasional messiness and haphazardness of the creative process – her characters appearing to her in the midst of real-life situations, dialogue from personal memos bleeding into the play itself, the chaos of the whole situation delightfully surreal.
For Don’t Waste Your Bullets… is at its best when it is focusing on the daft rather than the dramatic. Ed Stambollouian’s production has lots of fun in playing the actors at war with the writer/director – Benjamin Dilloway and Ciarán Owens both hilarious as the increasingly sceptical Americans and Naomi Sheldon’s progressively despotic Ellen finding sweet release in the expert deployment of sound effects in the play’s standout moment.
But the more serious strand of Ellen’s personal life and her dumbfounded partner left behind fails to convince, so little time devoted to him and this side of her character that their scenes just feel like they’re marking time ‘til we return to the madness of chickens, gunshots, buckets and prequels to Cats. If ultimately we don’t learn too much of real import about how difficult it is to be a writer, we’re nonetheless certainly entertained in the meanwhile.