Alphabetti Theatre is a small venue in Newcastle city centre. It’s hidden away in a basement building opposite the grand City library and the Laing Art Gallery. You enter through blue gates (helpfully identified in their “How to find us” on the website, and are led down narrow steps, flanked by monochrome tribalistic murals on brick walls. At the bottom you enter a surprisingly warm, quirky bar and are greeted with friendly smiles. Alphabetti is quirky and strange – a mishmash of recycled and up cycled furniture and fittings – partitions like allotment fences made from old doors, your seat is one of many mismatched old dining chairs (available to purchase if you find you like it so much you want to take it home). You’d be forgiven for thinking that the play you’ve come to see might be equally thrown together and a bit home made. But while Alphabetti might run on a shoestring, it aims to bring high quality new writing to new audiences, and give the writers a venue to try out their words. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and the production surprisingly slick for such a hotchpotch space. These are people who not only love what they do, but know what they are doing.
Continuum is staged in the centre of the room with the chairs ranged around three sides. On the stage is a hospital bed with a motionless figure (asleep?). Two chairs with female occupants who wait patiently and still while the theatre fills. The action starts with the first of the women addressing the sleeping man. This is Ben Savage – he is not sleeping we learn, but in a coma after a traffic accident. His girlfriend is waiting for him to come round. She’s been told to talk to him, that it may help to pull him round. She has been there for three days but what she needs to talk about is clearly not what might be helpful to the situation. She’s distraught and emotional. The lighting switches from the prone man to the other female character – the doctor, as Jenny tries to glean some information and hope from the doctor. There is no information. They must wait till Ben wakes in order to assess the full extent of his injuries. Ben wakes suddenly, in mis sentence as if he has been part of earlier conversations. Ansd so begins the process of piecing together Ben’s memories. They are fractured, pieces are missing. Vital pieces.
As the play progresses we slowly learn what brought these three people to this point – like putting together a jigsaw pice by piece the story unfolds, sometimes with a pice in the wrong place, sometimes with a pieces missing altogether until finally, even with some pieces still missing the audience can see the full picture.
Continuum explores the nature of relationships, of memories and identity, of guilt and responsibility. It is tense, funny, emotional and, I found, incredibly sad. It is about a man who loses himself and finds himself again, discovering the best of himself in the same moment that he discovers the worst.
It is the story of four lives affected by a moment’s folly. Powerfully written and touchingly and convincingly portrayed by the four actors.
Written by Richard Stockwell
Directed by Ali Pritchard
Performed by Matt Jamie, Rosie Stancliffe, Arabella Arnott, James Barton
Continuum plays until 25th March – book your place and pay what you think it is worth at the end of the performance.