Written by Aodhan Gallagher
Directed by Irene Macdougall
Sensitivity readers. A job title unheard of in the past. Everyone has one now, even colossal writers who have graced us with scenes of intense violence, sexual assault, and a soupcon of scatological discomfort. But not everyone feels their necessity.
The world of theatre, literature, film, and performance art has evolved to create positions for those looking to ensure the safety and perceptions of audiences and those involved – scouting for the content which could become perceived as obscene, offensive, or exclusive of representation. A much-needed necessity – or pandering to the ‘woke’?
For weary, once world-renowned author Frank, this new generation doesn’t grasp the gritty nature of it all – the violence, sexism and Frank’s version of realism within his books becoming a target for boycotts. What’s worse, his publishers feel differently than he does. Forced to take on a sensitivity reader, Aodhan Gallagher’s topical two-hander and A Play, A Pie, And a Pint debut, Write-Off, thrusts two gay men from differing generations together in an explosive piece which directly challenges the preconceptions we have in assumptions of subjects we may know but have never lived.
For such a pleasant chap, Richard Conlon has a knack for tapping into the depraved, the vicious, and the aggressive. Yet, even with Frank’s use of words many would now find distasteful, there’s such a human nature to Conlon’s performance that even at his most acid-tongued, there’s an exceptionally well-formed sense of argument and character put across. There’s a staggering amount of silence in Irene Macdougall’s production, and though only fifty minutes, these assertive glances from Conlon feel like they span endless moments – communicating an entire spectrum of thoughts from denial to eventual acceptance.
This isn’t to say Bailey Newsome’s Ben (Frank’s hopeful student-reader) is saintly, indeed while many may outwardly demonstrate their understanding that Conlon’s Frank might be unpalatable, Newsome ensures Ben’s over-eager presumptions and ambitions are just as toxic as Frank’s jaded perspective. The pair’s back and forth is paced perfectly, the show rounds out well, and their humour and character never falter. Newsome provides a fresh sense of urgency against Colon’s more restrictive movements, Macdougall doing a fine job ensuring the pair circle one another to avoid projection or blocking issues.
As revelations unfurl, perhaps a touch openly, Write-Off’s touching and raw narrative begins to stitch the wounds it has opened. For a debut PPP show, Gallagher should be nothing but astoundingly proud. An attempt could be made to sit and pick apart each dimension of the script, which deftly and eloquently folds in elements of classism, identity, and offence, but that isn’t strictly the point here. These elements exist, but no one is going to solve them in fifty minutes. What we might be able to solve is our manner in addressing them.
The merit in writing, and MacDougall’s excellent direction, is that neither of the pair is right. Write-Off isn’t about the argument of snowflakes versus an extreme, inflammatory sentiment – it’s a piece on the generational divide, this case beautifully illustrated between two gay men, and the continuing stagnation in which we are unable to live the others’ experiences. There’s a shift in perspective, come the finale, one which nails in the issues many of us perpetrate: in our ambition to be right, to empathise, to ‘educate’, we often widen an already expansive gap. And the sooner we grasp this, the sooner these wounds can heal. Or at least soothe.
Upon its Glasgow premiere, Write-Off has been branded a highlight of the 2023 Spring season. They were right to do so. Gallagher’s script feels insightfully natural in its exploration of representation and the boundaries and responsibilities of publishers, creatives and, hell, our day-to-day interactions. Featuring two powerful performances which wield comedy as deftly as they do pathos: this isn’t a piece to miss, but undoubtedly has longevity behind it.
Write-Off runs at The Traverse Theatre until March 25th. Tuesday – Saturday at 13.00pm. Running Time – Fifty minutes without interval.
Tickets begin from £12.00, or £17.50 with pie and beverage, and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan