76th Edinburgh Fringe: REVIEW
"In these short plays, the writers and actors never cheat you, and you are given a full performance; in fact, there are some fuller running plays at the Fringe that are less complete than The Bite-Size Plays."
The Big Breakfast
Directed by Tom Linden-McCarron
August 15, 2023
There is something special about coming to the Fringe and seeing a staple like Bite-Size Plays. For me, there is a comfort in being able to come and see a show that I’m not only familiar with but one I know won’t disappoint me. Bite-Size Plays has built its reputation by creating a variety of playlets that really do entertain their audiences in such a unique way. For their 15th Fringe Anniversary, Bite-Size Plays has moved to a bigger venue, BEYOND at Pleasance Courtyard, and has maintained their unique, infectious style that is the bedrock of who they are as a company.
The Bite-Sized Plays' Big Breakfast Show begins with an orderly queue, very British, as you await your turn for your coffee or tea, strawberries, and an almost warm croissant. I’ve always wondered what it means to the cast to serve their audiences breakfast before they start their performance. Does the chit-chat help in any way, or are most of the audience oblivious to the fact that their servers are their actors? The conversation between audience and cast is never really deep, but I always find it interesting to see them working through the trays of croissants, smiling, and chatting amongst themselves. It's this early part that helps, in my opinion, to forge this bond they create with their audiences, one that will last throughout the hour.
Every season, audiences are treated to a series of menus—three this year—with each menu consisting of between five and six short plays. The morning I went, it was Menu 3, which is: Anniversary by Thomas Willshire, LA 8AM by Mark Harvey Levine, Nibbles by Tom Hartwell, Murder by Beech Brunstetter, A Rare Bird by Bella Poynton, and Beautiful People in a Living Room Doing Nothing by Alec Seymour.
There is a mix of emotions in Menu Three that range from the weird and strange, Beautiful People in a Living Room Doing Nothing, to heartfelt LA 8am and A Rare Bird. Bite-size short stories magically craft short stories that, within them, carry such weight and power that it’s impossible not to feel a connection to them and the characters. Where Anniversary examines a somewhat toxic relationship, brilliantly reversed in Nibbles, we meet a man, a man who is a little too old to be a Deliveroo rider and is also a man who has experienced a break in his mental health and is on a reset. Nibbles is the only monologue piece in the six short plays, and though it maintains the substantive feel found within all the plays, it's also tear-inducing funny.
Mental health, fear, loneliness, jealousy, and regret are some of the themes that unite the plays and help create such fully rounded, real, and honest characters. Perhaps best explored in Bella Poynton’s writing in A Rare Bird, which offers the finest glimpse into the heart of these playlets.
The moment we meet the professor, we can see he’s someone who has the world on his shoulders; he’s fidgety, stressed, fed up, and perhaps about to take steps to irreversibly take care of the situation, and as soon as Sarah walks in, things seem to change for the better. There is an absurdity in Poynton’s text that is fantastically realised by Polly Smith and Thomas Willshire; you can feel their deep sense of connection and understanding of these people. Rather than being afraid or scared of her new affliction, Sarah feels relief; she feels ‘extraordinary’, something she’s never felt before. Hearing Sarah talk about her life, her experiences, and her feelings allows us to understand how much of a lifeline this is. The freedom this will offer her, the life it will give her—the more she talks, the more she convinces us that this is really a gift and all she has to do is wait to be fully transformed. Once she does, it won’t be only her memories that will be gone forever, but also the pain, regrets, and choices she's made in her life.
As Sarah leaves the professor's office, I can’t help but wonder what feeling she’s going to feel when she’s flying high above the trees, her wings spread as wide as possible, and her body gently gliding through the clouds. I can imagine she’s happy and free, feeling no regret whatsoever. As much as this was a life-changing opportunity for Sarah, it also became a life-saving opportunity for the Professor.
"I can imagine she’s happy and free, feeling no regret whatsoever."
Actors Polly Smith, Rosie Edwards, Tom Hartwell, Claira Amy Parr, and Thomas Willshire share a wonderful, creative bond that adds a lot to this production. They have been served well by their director, Tom Linden-McCarron, who manages to keep the pace, movement, emotion, and humour flowing with ease.
Sound, lighting, and music equally play their roles, and in Murder, the choice of song that played at the end, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Murder on the Dance Floor, didn’t just seem apt but also a possible tease for a sequel in 2024.It’s something I can’t stress enough: the cast fully realised how to bring their characters to life. We only see them for a few minutes, but it is in these minutes that we actually get to forge a connection that is real and touches you. Whether it's Nibbles, LA 8AM, or Murder, the characters are complex and burdened by the weight of modern life.
In these short plays, the writers and actors never cheat you, and you are given a full performance; in fact, there are some fuller running plays at the Fringe that are less complete than The Bite-Size Plays.