“It’s not a result of excessive masturbation”
The Sky Arts Playhouse: Live project has commissioned five new short plays which will be broadcast live on Sky Arts 2 but we have the opportunity to watch previews of them at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith before they are transmitted: first up is The Typist. Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who will seemingly be forever known as the first woman to have a play performed on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre and directed by Bijan Sheibani, responsible for one of my favourite things from last year Our Class, there is obviously a very high class field of creatives brought together here by executive producer Sandi Toksvig and there are some corkers coming in the rest of the programme, not least Lesley Manville and Juliet Stevenson in a new Mark Ravenhill piece.
It tells the story of the relationship between Mary Parks, an artist and photographer who has lost her sight, and Fit, a smart but shy teenage boy who she has employed to transcribe her thoughts and writings. From the moment of his employment, their rapport is obvious despite their differences but as they become more and more honest with each other, Mary tests the relationship to its limits with an extraordinary request. It is a fine piece of writing, a brilliantly rounded portrait of a feisty mature woman and the real issues affecting her.
It opens extremely well, showing the inner turmoil of a woman struggling to deal with the reality of her affliction but when her visitor arrives, she’s so comfortable in her surroundings, it is several minutes before we actually realise that she is blind, it is very slickly done and as we see, typical of Mary’s approach to life. Gemma Jones beautifully plays the slow unfolding of a woman unused to being dependent on another, but coming to realise that she does need help and indeed the balm of human contact. Tobi Bakare is also good as the astronomy-obsessed Fit, learning more about the world from his interactions with Mary but also possessed of a strong moral code despite his relative youth. The reveal of the truth behind his name is a touching scene too, albeit a device borrowed from Slightly in Peter Pan.
Set entirely in Mary’s study, it is well dressed with book-laden shelves on the one side and an attractive variation of pictures and photos hanging on the other in Naomi Dawson’s design and complemented by Martin Kempton’s lighting which has been heavily influenced by Mary’s profession as a photographer. The brief scene changes are carried out in the deep red light of a darkroom and then there’s a bright flare of flashbulb and the lights come up for the scene: it was highly effective in the auditorium and I hope it comes across well on the television screen.
The Typist was an interesting piece of writing which accomplishes an impressive amount in a small space of time, though I’d be interested to see if there’s any plans to develop it further. It is lifted up by some excellent creative choices and acting, and for me it was a great opportunity to see Gemma Jones up close (who as it turns out, I still haven’t forgiven or going rogue in Spooks). There are three more dates to see this live if you so desire and it will be transmitted live on Sky Arts 2 at 9pm on Wednesday 9th June.
Running time: 45 minutes
Programme cost: free cast and creatives list available