I’ve seen theatre that seeks to raise awareness about all sorts of issues. Racism, classism, social justice, particular moments in history, individuals, you name it. I hadn’t seen a play about organ transplants and donation until Spare Parts Theatre Company’s one-person Pieces. Founded by actor and transplant patient Steven Mortimer, Spare Parts both raises awareness about issues surrounding organ transplants and fundraises for several related charities. Pieces tells the stories of six different people affected by organ failure and the need for a transplant. Mortimer performs six separate, extended monologues demonstrating that organ failure can hit any age, class or body type, causing life to stand still until that organ is found. Mortimer effectively plays a range of characters in scripts by a few different writers that vary in quality, but maintains audience focus for the 50-minute show and succeeds in reminding audiences about the importance of organ donation.
Piece 1: a Cockney ex-taxi driver sits in the back of a black cab on his way to hospital for a double cornea transplant, chatting incessantly to the unseen driver. His fear of death is evident in his regular conversation diversions to what it must have been like processing towards your hanging at Tyburn. Some of the topic transitions are rather jerky, but Mortimer smooths them over as best as he can. The ending also terminates abruptly and quickly; some time for the character’s reflection would have also given the audience additional processing time.
Piece 2: This is the weakest of the six pieces. The monologue is framed around a man watching his twin brother Jono run a 5k in preparation for the marathon. A year ago, this was unthinkable. Periodically, we hear a group of runners go past, but Jono isn’t there. The sections where he is waiting tend to ramble, but the ending is lovely even though a bit sentimental.
Piece 3: Johnny is a character similar to the visually impaired taxi driver in piece one; Mortimer struggles to differentiate the two. To add more space between them, this piece could have come later in the production, providing stronger contrast. He’s in an AA meeting sharing his life story. This piece becomes much more dynamic by focusing on Johnny’s drinking and homelessness and less on him needing a liver transplant. His emotional reunion with his parents after fifteen years also helps broaden the story; these wide themes indicate this monologue could develop into a play with additional characters and plot. This is one of the better plays because it provides us with a much broader picture of the character’s life.
Piece 4: Radically different in style. This fragmented fever dream from a scared child under anaesthetic is excellent. Obsessed with Doctor Who, the child’s thoughts flick back and forth through time, showing his fears and hopes for a life beyond dialysis. Mortimer could have played him even younger to have a stronger effect on the audience, though the language showed that John was quite young, no more than eight or nine years old. The sound design is particularly detailed, with a tardis motif.
Piece 5: Another child, this one is older and stroppy. He is struggling with his younger sister’s need for a heart transplant. The childishness is interrupted by profoundly adult moments as he debates whether he should kill himself so she can have his heart. He also endearingly compares her upcoming transplant with gardening. This piece shows how organ failure causes those involved to grow up quickly, often too fast. This is another excellent piece; Mortimer found it easier to embody this child. Perhaps the frustration and helplessness are emotions he can access particularly well.
Piece 6: Five-year-old Liz is in a hospital bed attached to a ventilator. She’s five, has Cystic Fibrosis and is waiting for a double lung transplant. Mortimer plays her father, dreaming of a healthy child that can run and play like all the other children. He also considers the family of the child that will donate his/her lungs to Liz and how their parents must feel. Mature and complex, this is the second piece that has a character detailed enough to turn into a longer play, with additional roles acted out. This piece has a sombre and moving tone very different to the previous pieces and a good choice for an ending.
Pieces is certainly a unique production, and one that will develop further with additional variation to style and character development. The sound design by Justin Teasdale was atmospheric but not dominating and could enhance the addition of design elements including costume and set. This production relies on verbal communication; the set was a single folding chair and Mortimer’s costume never changed. Though it enhanced the storytelling aspect of the production and allowed its messages to sink in, some visual variation would also be welcome. Despite its shortcomings, this remains a unique production with important messages.
The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.