Unusual Shorts

Highbury Theatre Centre


If you are a reasonably frequent theatregoer, especially supporting the ranks of unpaid Thespians, the chances are, whether you know it or not, you will have seen a play by David Tristram, after all he has written some 30 or so which have been doing the professional and amateur rounds around the world for almost 40 years.

If it has Little Grimley in the title or Inspector Drake, then it has the hand, or at least the typewriter of Tristram on the script.

Drake was the first back in 1985 with Inspector Drake’s Last Case, which it patently wasn’t with four more cases and a couple of films to follow.

Then there is the Queen of Tipton, Doreen, the only known sufferer of LCS, Lazy Cow Syndrome, with stage shows and films to her name and now a regular gig in the Birmingham Hippodrome Panto.

In a typical Tristram twist the idle Doreen, with a dangerous allergy to work which needed the lifesaving antidote of copious benefits has become the outlet for books of children’s poems and stories.

The rise and all that stuff of David Tristram was explained by the man himself as the compère of Unusual Shorts. He explained he was the compère as otherwise he would have to actually pay out money for an actor to do to do the job.

frim at Highbury

Denise Phillips as Joyce, Nick Whitehouse as Gordon, Rob Phillips as Bernard and Kelly Tye as Margaret in David Tristram's Lockdown at Little Grimley at Highbury Theatre

A similar reasoning explained the complete lack of set – two basic chairs, a tiny table and a deck chair.

The real reason was that Tristram was celebrating the milestone of 10,000 live performances of his plays, which is not far short of 40 solid years of performances, and he passed on the information his agent  had given him that every day, somewhere in the world, one of his plays was being performed.

Rather than mark the milestone with a lavish event though, Tristram decided to go back to where it all started in small halls and amateur theatres with a tour of a short sketch and excerpts from two plays with darker sides. As Tristram told the audience at Highbury, comedy needs conflict and context, he didn’t mention the other necessity, clever, witty writing. The minimal set meant that the audience concentrated on the actors and the script, which is the theatrical equivalent of music unplugged.

Alan Birch and Sarah Raymond, original members of Tristram’s Flying Ducks Theatre Company, take on all the roles, displaying admirable acting talent in creating different characters in completely different situations.

It opens with Peas, a shorts sketch with Gerry and Daisy, she a Scouser and an Everton fan and clubber, he a nerd’s nerd with a bizarre job as a lookalike looking nothing like what he was a lookalike as. He lives a life, where excitement as least as far as anyone vaguely normal is concerned, has passed him by. He hates foreign food – you suspect Scotch eggs and Welsh rarebit would come under that category – and sees films as sort of digital books which means reading is not necessary.

They have been thrown together, sorry, found to be compatible, by a new dating agency, an agency you suspect might have a very limited number of clients, two springs to mind, and we slowly discover the only thing they really have in common is they are both members of the human race.

But slowly as they discover they are at opposite end of everything from liking nuts to sunbathing they find a sort of uncommon ground they can live, and perhaps even love with.

Going Green is an except from a longer play with John Brown, deputy leader of the Green Party, who opens with a rousing speech warning of the impending doom facing humanity from pollution and climate change with the clarion call of Go Green or Die.

Ironic really as, speech over, he heads to hospital to see a consultant for the result of tests for a mystery illness which turns out to be a fatal disease, and he is given the choice of going green or, well, dying, the bad news with a sort of goodish news corollary, by the medical professional Madeleine Gascoigne.

Medical professional because . . . well you need to see it yourself.

While Tristram writes many out and out, laugh out loud comedies, humour can have its darker side, bittersweet moments, even pathos and this provides it.

The final extract is from The Secret Lives of Henry and Alice; The Smiths are a married couple where romance, which must have been there once we assume, has been replaced by boredom, routine and hints of rancour.

Henry has a secret life of daydreams, his escape from drab reality, while Alice has . . . Henry, or to be more honest, puts up with him and her drab reality.

His views and the place of men and women in the world as he sees it is, are, should we say, not exactly in tune with modern values, as shown when he buys Alice a dishwasher for Christmas without even knowing the make, size, number of settings or type. He just knows that it would save Alice time doing the washing up, which says more then he does about his view on household chores. It is emphasised by his inability to open a deckchair and his illogical view that it is women who can’t open deckchairs, its expected of them – says the man with nowhere to sit.

We find Henry bickering with Alice and, a series of quick changes by Sarah, baffling a psychiatrist with his somewhat individual view of life.

The result is an evening of amusement with a pair of superb actors, cleverly written scripts, and a window into the quirky world of David Tristram. 

Roger Clarke


The tour continues at The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster, 6 Oct; Alvechurch Village Hall, 21 Oct and Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge, 27 Oct.

Highbury Theatre Centre  Flying Ducks

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