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24:7 review, Pawn

Joan Davies is entranced by a fine new work full of verve and vulgarity

Published on July 27th 2010.

24:7 review, Pawn

24:7 always throws up some surprises. Most of them good. A set of one-hour plays simply but expertly produced is presented every year in non-theatre spaces, this year in the home of its major sponsor, The Co-operative.

Sustaining the menace and malice for nearly an hour while gradually revealing the underlying insecurities of the character makes serious demands on an actor.

Thankfully I’d checked the spelling before replying to the Editor’s “Can you cover Pawn?” request at our planning meeting. Not that it made a great deal of difference; I’m no expert in either industry. But I do believe that I know a good play when I see one: and this is a good play.

Funny and entertaining throughout, with some unexpected turns and excellent performances, it’s a good way of spending an hour.

Pawn is a new play from ex-police sergeant Brian Marchbank who started writing at the age of 50 following thirty years in Greater Manchester force.

There’s just one police character, a sergeant who gets to use his shiny-new hostage negotiation training skills just ten days after completing his course.

A small pawn shop, left in the charge of the owner’s goofy daughter, is raided, and the resulting hostage situation allows all the characters to traverse personal and relationship change, the settling of old scores, addiction, guilt, the onset of labour, class conflict, an unintentional school-reunion, and eventually face the consequences of their actions in a laughter-rich hour not suited to the puritanical.

Young director Dennis Keighron-Foster encourages his cast of newcomers and regulars to keep the pace sharp. They deliver the comedy with clarity and precision and an excellent sense of timing which, even in the early stages of this short run, adapts to audience response.

Matthew Stead, a recent graduate from MMU, plays a drunk. Initially he seems a simple but deluded soul, another comedy character. Stead’s portrayal of his growing assertiveness and his confused perception of guilt and responsibility is impressive.

Superb delivery of comic one-liners comes from Fiona Carmouch as heavily-pregnant Mel, and Annemarie Bayley as ‘Mouse’ Emma.

The most demanding role falls to Christine Clare, another MMU graduate, as cruel criminal Bernie, whose school girl cruelties are enhanced by possession of a gun and a posh boyfriend in thrall to her life at the margins of danger.

Sustaining the menace and malice for nearly an hour while gradually revealing the underlying insecurities of the character makes serious demands on an actor.

Doing so while the rest of the cast repeatedly make the audience laugh is a real stretch, particularly, at a first performance in front of an unknown audience. Clare succeeds much of the time and will surely strengthen her commendable performance as she adjusts to the larger audiences this production will deservedly attract.

Hugh Draycott as Simon, the Clyde to Bernie’s Bonnie, appears to make a tentative start, too posh for the situation. But it’s the character, not the actor who’s understandably tentative, and rather posh.

John McElhatton as police officer Cassidy, draws laughs of recognition as his training-inspired confidence wanes in the face of the messy realities of the real world and the lack of support and effective resources from above.

The final sound effect is something of an anti-climax. But the production is impressive and highly entertaining.

Pawn is part of the 24:7 Theatre Festival which runs until Sunday 1st August at New Century House. Dates and times vary; see the website for details.

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