Listen Up review – a standup, a rapper and a playwright in a lonely theatre

·2 min read

Some of the finest lockdown digital theatre has addressed the absence of its real-world counterpart. I’m thinking of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Ghost Light, which invoked the spirits of performances past and postponed. Alphabetti in Newcastle upon Tyne is up to something similar with this trio of audio plays, written “in reaction to a lonely theatre”. Three writers conjure with the associations of an empty stage, an unpopulated auditorium, an interval bar sans drinkers. Footage from inside the abandoned Alphabetti, a Mary Celeste adrift on Covid’s waves, accompanies their words.

Standup Lauren Pattison’s The Last Laugh is delivered by a comedian caught in the (endless) moments before she goes on stage. It’s a great instant to freeze a comic, poised between indignity (skulking behind a curtain) and the glory of life at the mic. The moment is more complicated still for Pattison’s alter-ego Katie, revisiting a venue where, it becomes clear, her last gig went nightmarishly wrong. There’s nothing revelatory about the monologue’s observations on standup life – and I cannot imagine why Pattison chooses Brian as her default name for the stony-faced killjoy in her crowd. But this remains an enjoyable vignette, with a catching twist in the tail.

Richard Boggie’s piece The Interval transports us to the bar, where a glass of red wine sits untended on a table. As this solo piece about a co-dependent couple now bound, now riven by alcoholism makes clear, not all theatregoers come for the art. It’s engaging enough, but – because least anchored in the theatre world – makes the slightest impression in Jonluke McKie’s production. I preferred rapper Kay Greyson’s An Empty Room, which, depicting a gig she once performed to an audience of none, posts a salutary reminder that, long before Covid, plenty of fringe theatre-makers had experience of socially distanced crowds.

Greyson uses that under-attended gig (in a Sunderland community centre, when she was 12) as motivation: if you can perform to zero onlookers, you become indomitable. Here’s hoping the theatre industry can fashion something equally uplifting from 14 months of bare stages and empty rooms.

Listen Up is streaming nightly until 15 May