One Day When We Were Still Young

Love in a war climate: Leonard and Violet in One Day When We Were Still Young. Photograph: Elyse Marks Photography

The enormous potential of Shoreditch Town Hall to become an important creative and cultural space for East London is finally being realised, as the former Music Hall venue enjoys its first programme of regular ticketed events since the late 1800s.

October sees the building’s grand Assembly Hall host three small-scale new plays performed by an ensemble of four actors in a mobile auditorium that looks not unlike a miniature circus ring. The Roundabout Season comprises three productions by Sheffield Theatres and Paines Plough, a touring company who call themselves the UK’s national theatre of new plays.

In Nick Payne’s play One Day When We Were Young, Leonard and Violet are a young couple together in the Blitz, in love but about to endure a separation. Leonard has been newly conscripted, and due to go to war. We first see the pair in a shabby hotel bedroom in Bath, the stage lowly lit with old dressing tables and 40s-style accoutrements around the edge and, in the middle, an iron-framed single bed. It’s their first night together, though perhaps their last, as, amid talk of marriage and Violet ‘waiting’ until the war’s end, neither really know what the future holds. The tension this creates is palpable, cleverly offset by a script that is moving and funny without resorting to sentimentality, and with dynamic performances from Andrew Sheridan and Maia Alexander. The characters meet twice more, at different stages of their lives, with their circumstances changed, though with their feelings for each other remain.

Lungs, by Duncan Macmillan, is another two-hander about a couple, though this time set in the present day without props or even a set. Although in essence one big dialogue, there are frequent changes of scene, dictated by the movements and actions of the actors – one moment they’re in Ikea, the next they’re shouting over imaginary music in a night club. The two nameless protagonists, who are concerned about environmental issues, wrestle with the ethics of having a child.

Kate O’Flynn’s character is impulsive and insightful, while her partner, played by Alistair Cope, is the couple’s reassuring presence. While this may sound stereotypical, it’s a realistic depiction of the inner workings of a relationship tempered by an observational, wry humour that an audience can relate to.

A cabaret singer who goes missing is the focus of Penelope Skinner’s The Sound of Heavy Rain, in which all four ensemble members have parts. In this slick private dick drama, Dabrowski P.I.is called in to find the vanished Foxie O’Hara, but the deeper he delves the darker the case becomes. Soon it’s more a question of who Foxie is than it is about her whereabouts.

With these three compelling works, performed sympathetically by a small group of talented young actors, Paines Plough will do their reputation for nurturing the best new playwriting no harm.

The Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall runs until 27 October.

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