Interview with Thomas Martin, Director of If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You @ The Vaults

Director: Thomas Martin on If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You by John O’Donovan.

14th February- 25th February

The Vaults

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What originally attracted you to work on If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You?

The characters and the place. John O’Donovan has written two charming, complex young men, each of them speaking in strikingly differentiated language – it’s proof of the writing that I could imagine vividly not only what each of them was thinking when I first read it, but also where each of them was from. Mikey and Casey’s Ennis, though you sense it’s not the easiest of places to live, especially for young gay men, still feels so full of life that you want to stay there even after the play is done.

 

What’s it like re-staging the piece now, at the vault festival? 

We’ve already restaged it for its four week tour of Ireland, where it’s played at Project Arts Centre in Dublin, Glor in Ennis, and the Mick Lally Theatre in Galway. These spaces are dramatically different in size and configuration, so we’ve always had to be quite quick on our feet in terms of staging the show! VAULT is end-on, so audiences will be getting the more widescreen version of this play.

 

The show has been praised for the chemistry between the two leads, did you do any particular work in rehearsal to help establish that rapport?

Luckily, Josh and Alan get on like a house on fire outside of rehearsals, so we had no trouble developing that connection in the room, but this time round we were lucky enough to work with movement director Sue Mythen. She helped the actors access not only a more realistic physical relationship to the roof, but also a deeper physical relationship with each other, which reads wonderfully on stage. Improvisations on the characters’ historical interactions were also really helpful.

 

The play deals with a lot of complex and difficult issues: homophobia, domestic abuse, poverty — how do you deal with bringing such weighty issues to the stage?

You take them seriously, and really make use of them. The play doesn’t discuss these things, nor would I say it’s about them, but they are the facts about the characters, and any good actor will use those as fuel for their performance. The difference in experience between two people is always potent – there’s a tiny shift in the play when Casey asks Mikey (who is unemployed, lives on the dole, deals a bit to get by) if he’s ever been kicked out of a flat by his landlord. Casey has, and that shift in status was a great discovery that we only made by taking the difficult circumstances of the characters seriously.

 

What element of the show are you most excited for audiences to see?

The ending! Wow, the ending! This is a sneaky way of making sure nobody walks out, but it’s also a really good ending.

 

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

I think people are always surprised by how much they think of the characters afterwards. Loads of audience members have remarked on wanting to know what happens to them next, and I think it’s testament to the writing that Mikey and Casey feel real enough to have that sort of effect.

Any advice for aspiring theatre professionals?

If you don’t need to be doing it, if it’s not the thing that makes you happiest in the world, probably don’t do it.

 

Aside from ‘If We Got Some More Cocaine…’ what’s a book/production/piece of art/film you think more people should see? 

Simon Longman’s play Gundog has just opened at the Royal Court, and it’s a magnificent bit of work.

 


If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You by John O’Donovan.

14th February- 25th February

The Vaults

To book tickets – click here

 

Medea Electronica, Pecho Mama @ The Ovalhouse

30th January – 10 February
Created and performed by Pecho Mama: Mella Faye, Sam Cox and Alex Stanford

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With Medea Electronica, Pecho Mama have found some kind of sorcery.

The piece, a retelling of the tragedy of Medea, is half play, half live concept album. The members of Pecho Mama persistently blur the line between these two halves. They place their synthesizer and electronic drum kit prominently on either side of the stage. Front and centre is a mic stand. The stage looks like it’s set up for a concert, rather than Greek tragedy. It’s about to host both.

As the piece begins, we come to understand how this is possible.

The play dances effortlessly between song and scene. One moment, Mella Faye’s Medea will be comforting her children, or speaking to their teacher, or confronting her traitorous husband. Then, instantly, seamlessly, her reaction to that scene is pulsing all around us. It’s broadcast through musicians Sam Cox and Alex Stanford’s instruments and Mella Faye’s own soulful voice. Through this back and forth Pecho Mama weave an unbroken thread of tension through the piece. This thread grows tighter and tighter until, of course, it snaps. To glorious and terrifying effect.

Mella Faye portrays Medea as a meek, ordinary woman, pushed to the extreme end of violence by circumstance. As an audience we view her transformation with a mixture of fear, awe, and pity. We are conflicted. It’s electrifying to see her claw back her power, but the lengths to which she goes are horrifying.

Propelling the piece forward is Pecho Mama’s evocative, exciting music. Cox and Stanford’s synths are constantly driving the piece forward. They are ever-present, accompanying moments of dialogue with atmospheric drones or sharp, percussive beats. They give the piece a persistent musicality and rhythm that keeps the story flowing forward at a breakneck pace. They make music that feels true to the story’s roots as an ancient verse play, and keeps the intensity building until its inevitable breaking point. It helps as well that they’re just fun to listen to, mixing elements of 80’s synth-electronic with prog-rock to form a suitably epic and energetic sound, cleverly composed and performed with panache.

What makes the piece so spellbinding as a whole, however, is how every element comes together to amplify the emotional intensity of the piece. Medea delivers all her lines into her microphone. This, counter-intuitively, makes the piece feel more intimate. Her voice comes from speakers all around the audience, making us feel like we’re experiencing the story from inside her mind. The only people on stage are Faye, Stanford and Cox, and of the three of them only Faye plays a character. The rest of the world flows around us, just out of view. Characters pass through the world invisibly, represented solely by their voices. It is testament to the skill of all of the actors involved, and sound designer Simon Booth, that I could not tell if these voices were pre-recorded or performed live off-stage. Every moment felt completely natural, despite the layers of technological artifice.

Seeing it feels like witnessing magic, as Pecho Mama seem to conjure a whole world out of thin air. This spellworking is facilitated by Jack Weir and Mella Faye’s excellent lighting design, which begins subtle and atmospheric but gradually becomes more striking and impressionistic as our heroine’s inhibitions are stripped away; and Marie Kirkby’s costuming, which highlights Medea’s transformation beautifully.

Through their combined efforts, Pecho Mama seem to summon the truth of the story, driven forward by their music and channelled through Mella Faye.

The effect is an exquisite piece of theatre, brilliantly executed and not quite like anything I’ve seen before.

 

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Ken, Hampstead Downstairs @ The Bunker

24 January – 24 February

By Terry Johnson

Directed by Lisa Spirling

Starring Terry Johnson & Jeremy Stockwell

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Photo Courtesy of Robert Day

Watching Ken at the Bunker, it is immediately apparent how much love the performers feel for their subject.

Terry Johnson’s piece, performed by himself and Jeremy Stockwell, is a celebration of Ken Campbell, the legendary theatre maker and comic performer. Both Stockwell and Johnson knew Campbell personally, and the love they feel for the man is obvious in the stories they tell about him.

The play describes the great influence that Campbell had on the performers themselves and many other theatre-makers. It tells the story of Johnson’s first meeting with Campbell, his participation in the 22-hour long surrealist marathon The Warp, and a montage of other encounters from throughout the artist’s life.

The episodes themselves are all incredibly funny, the kind of wild theatre legends that one can hardly believe. Watching it feels like gathering round at a party to hear crazy stories from a couple of old friends. The tales feel like the kind that have been repeated many times, and have grown in the re-telling without losing any of their core truth. They feel like a collection of theatrical legends. And there is something truly wonderful about the sharing of legends by storytellers as skilled as these.

Johnson writes and speaks with humour and warmth. He presents the piece from a carpeted podium, alternating between narrating and acting directly in the episodes described. The play includes a touching coming of age tale from Johnson’s point of view. We learn how Ken acted as a sort of shamanistic mentor to Johnson, constantly goading him into pushing his own boundaries.

Johnson presents this memoir with remarkable generosity. He shows us his evolution from awkwardly arrogant youth to grounded, mature artist. He presents himself as the perpetual observer, always on the side of the action, never quite able to join in, and shows us how Ken gave him the insight he needed to finally switch on and get in on the fun. Johnson is a very witty writer, so of course the piece is very funny. But more than simply funny, it is gleefully written. There is a joy in the telling of these stories, a contagious delight that carries the audience along for the entire ride.

Embodying that joy, and the titular Ken, is Jeremy Stockwell. Stockwell’s performance is exceptional. It transcends impression and creates something that feels truly real. I never met Ken Campbell myself, so I cannot speak to the performance’s accuracy, but I can say that Stockwell has created a truly vivid, detailed portrait of a man. I believed every moment of it. I was constantly forgetting I was watching an actor portraying a real person, despite Stockwell’s sporadic cheeky nods to this fact. Stockwell’s Ken moves through the world like some kind of clown-wizard, taking in everything around him and throwing it back out in the form of joyous, naughty fun.

His performance is always drawing us in, always including us. Sometimes he’ll make the audience into background characters in the story being told, assembled actors in a decrepit Edinburgh cinema or members of a hippie-theatre commune. Sometimes he’ll come and riff with somebody in the audience off of what’s happening on stage, bouncing off of their reactions and using the momentum to flow into the next moment. He brings us in, and allows us to be a part of these stories. We feel as if we were there. And we’re made to understand why it meant so much to be there. Why it still means so much now.

Ken is a celebration and memorial to a very influential man. But more than that, it is an exaltation at having “been there.” Johnson’s writing and Campbell’s performance allow us to live out the legends of their lives in the theatre. The stories they tell are wild, hilarious and touching, and they give us a beautiful and vivid look at a provocative and influential figure.

A moving and raucously funny piece of theatre, Ken is equal parts memoir, memorial and circus. A joy. A collection of great stories told with love, humour, and above all, fun.

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Programme D, The One Festival @ The Space

12th January – 27th January

The One Festival – Programme D

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The final programme of the One Festival, Programme D, offers a slightly different structure than the others I’ve attended. Rather than featuring four or five shows of around twenty to thirty minutes each, it consists of an hour-long piece before the interval, and four shorter pieces after. This format allows us to really dive into the first piece, and then enjoy the pieces that follow as a sort of collage of short experiences. As I have come to expect from this year’s One Festival, I found the pieces that make up Programme D to be remarkably, consistently fine, despite a few places that could use some more polish. Programme D provides an intimate, compassionate look at people; their thoughts, their feelings, their sensual experiences, and their deepest, most comical embarrassments.

 

Mission Abort, Written and Performed by Therese Ramstedt, Directed by Claire Stone

Mission Abort exemplifies this intimacy, as it explores the deepest doubts and emotions of a woman before, after, and during an abortion. Therese Ramstedt does a wonderful job of making the piece feel close to us, speaking to the audience as if speaking to her closest confidante, and frequently making use of members of the audience to bring parts of her story to life. Ramstedt’s writing is filled with charming, self-effacing humour, and her performance shows real, deeply-felt emotion masked by a youthful affectation of not-being-bothered. The piece explores the experience of having an abortion, and the experience of anticipating and recovering from one, in deep and intricate detail. It was enlightening for me, and I expect will be to many cis-gendered male viewers, to learn just how frustrating and confusing that the experience can be, even in a country where the procedure is relatively available and accessible. As enlightening and entertaining as it was, I was aware while viewing it that the piece might still need some refinement. Structurally, the piece seems to end halfway through and begin again, which is slightly disorienting as an audience member and distracts from the very strong material in the second half. Despite this issue, I felt the piece is very much worth seeing. It’s a piece that is heavily laden with engrossing, revealing, and entertaining material, even if it feels like that material needs to be re-organized in order to truly shine. That material is complemented by stirring directing by Claire Stone, who creates such a striking image at the climax of the piece that I was sure it must be the finale. Filled with dark humour and disarming honesty, Mission Abort is an entertaining and illuminating journey into what it’s like to be young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy in England today.

 

Crossrail by Philippa Mannion, Performed by Karen Ascoe, Directed by Jodie Botha

Crossrail is instantly refreshing, simply for telling a story from a point of view that is all-too-seldom shown in our arts and media. This beautiful character study by Philippa Mannion centres on Anne, a 56 year old Engineer working on the the new Elizabeth Line project. Again, simply by telling a story of an successful, independent, career-focused woman in her 50’s working in a STEM field, Crossrail is already interesting, but it’s made more interesting by the fact that it’s artfully written and sensitively, skilfully performed. Philippa Mannion’s script tells the story of a woman coming to terms with the loss of her husband by living her life to the fullest without him; moving from fascinating project to fascinating project, tending to her growing family tree, and eventually feeling comfortable enough to explore romance with others along the way. She expertly draws us a character who is profoundly intelligent, but also powerfully kind; a woman who is admirable in her ingenuity and strength, but always, always human. Enhancing and refining that humanity is Karen Ascoe, who brings a great sensitivity and life to the role. Ascoe beautifully captures the soul of a woman who is bursting with energy and joie de vivre. She imbues Anne with a deep passion. The way her eyes light up when she’s telling us about something she loves, whether that be her daughter’s baby shower or the tunnel breaking through at Farringdon Station, is a joy to behold. Artfully constructed and beautifully executed, Crossrail is an entrancing character study of a woman who is blazing through life with passion, intelligence, and independence.

 

 

 

Just One More Time by Guleraana Mir, Performed by Minhee Yeo, Directed by Mingyu Lin

This sensual and sensitive vignette by Guleraana Mir subverts expectations, as it tells the story of Suri and her disappointment with her new dance partner. This compassionate short play, performed with strength and elegance by Minhee Yeo, explores the trust we put in our partners, be they in dance or in life. Mir packs the short and engaging piece with sensual imagery and tender feeling, and Minhee Yeo’s sensitive performance is artfully showcased by Mingyu Lin’s directing. Altogether, the effect is intoxicating, and we are given an engrossing look into the life of a character who lives through movement and connection.

 

A Fallen Cigarette Butt Written and Performed by Stefanie-May Hammoudeh

A Fallen Cigarette Butt is a challenging piece to review, as its effects are difficult to describe. Structurally, the piece is a series of vignettes seen around a public square, told from the point of view of writer/performer Stefanie-May Hammoudeh as she reflects on a discarded cigarette. But Hammoudeh’s language, full of rhythmic repetition and lyrical, swirling descriptions, provides a feeling of reality twisting and turning around . Indeed, the entire experience feels meditative and dreamlike. Hammoudeh’s poetry doesn’t have any clearly spelled out message. Rather, it seems designed more to create a zen-like state, leaving one with an awareness of the connections between things. This poetic meditation on the mind-boggling richness of the world around us is beautifully written and performed by its creator. Through its lyricism and poetry, it shifts our awareness of the world around us in a subtle yet profound way.

 

The End of Term Show by Olu Alakija, Performed by Anthony Covens, Directed by John Fricker

 

The most clear-cut comedy of the evening, The End of Term Show is a hilarious, cutting show about childhood embarassment. It follows Maxwell Martin as he describes, in moment-to-moment detail, the day he became “The Boy Who Killed Christmas.” Olu Alakija’s piece is packed with clever, irreverent jokes, and Maxwell is played with manic verve by Anthony Covens, who almost berates the audience with the story of how he was unjustly maligned for ruining a school nativity play in his childhood. Full of energetic humour and performed with panache, The End of Term Show is a festive treat for the gloomy January season.

 

As I’ve found with the other sections of the One Festival, Programme D is an exciting evening of theatre, filled with intriguing characters, fascinating writing, and great performances. It features a collection of beautifully drawn characters telling intimate, personal stories. Well constructed and thrillingly executed, the work on display in Programme D is a stirring and well crafted collection of new writing.

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Programme A, The One Festival @ The Space

9th January – 25th January

The One Festival – Programme A

The One Festival at the Space Theatre is an eclectic and intriguing festival of new writing. Its four ‘Programmes’ offer four or five short works apiece, each performed by only one actor. So far, my experience with the One Festival has been very positive; every night I’ve gone I’ve been able to experience an exciting assortment of short pieces from a diverse array of artists. That trend of great theatre experiences continues in Programme A , in which we see five people all trying to come to terms with some very hard truths, in five very different ways.

 

Treasure by Laura Kaye Thomson, Performed by Jennifer Greenwood, in Association with Music Box Theatre

Treasure, the first piece of the evening, is a complex and moving meditation on grief, family, and mental illness. When we first meet Alex, she is in her “Treasure Trove,” a sort of sentimental safe haven created by her mother, full of precious things. As we learn about this treasure trove, and the objects within, a picture is revealed: one of a young woman coping with a grief so heavy she can’t quite face it. Laura Kaye Thomson’s writing manages to paint a vivid and moving picture of a mother-daughter relationship that is both deeply loving and wrought with pain. Through her words we are not only moved, but made to question: what do you do when you love someone who can’t seem to love herself? Bringing those words to life is Jennifer Greenwood, who masterfully navigates Alex’s journey of nostalgia, pain, anger and acceptance. Her performance is painful and truthful, and she breaks up Alex’s pain with just enough humour and brightness that it never feels too heavy. Treasure is a touching piece, beautifully written and performed, that has a lot to say about loss, and the way we cope with depression in our families.

 

Meeting Roman Polanski by Janice Hallett, Performed by Jessica White, Directed by Adam Hemming

How are you supposed to say ‘Hi’ to Roman Polanski? That’s the question that this uncomfortably relevant piece revolves around, as we watch a woman trying to reconcile a deep love and appreciation of a director’s work with a deep disgust for his actions. The piece examines the link between art and artist, and how a creator’s actions effect their work. Jessica White’s performance as an interviewer trying to reconcile these conflicting feelings is intelligent and passionate. Watching her, you fully understand her struggle; she speaks so passionately about the way Polanski’s work has affected her, and is so horrified by what he’s done, that as an audience we are trapped in the dilemma with her. Janice Hallett’s writing dives deep into the duality of Polanski, and other talented yet monstrous men like him. She brilliantly raises and interrogates questions without ever coming to firm answer. This thought-provoking and sharply executed piece leaves us suspended in these questions, forcing us to come to our own conclusions.

 

Inside Alan Written and Performed by Mitch Day, Directed by Anthony Houghton

Malcolm Collins has a secret: Yes, he broke into Alan Titchmarsh’s house, but that’s not his biggest secret. A fascinating and darkly funny piece, Inside Alan investigates why people stalk celebrities, and how it often has less to do with sexual gratification and more to do with a desperate need for intimacy and comfort. Mitch Day creates Alan with sensitivity and humour, portraying a young man so wracked with anxiety he’ll go to great lengths to feel comfortable, even if it means having a bath in a celebrity gardener’s bathroom. Darkly funny, and full of heart, Inside Alan is a surprisingly touching tale of crime, loss, and self acceptance.

 

A Sweet Life by Guleraana Mir, Performed by Alice Langrish, Directed by Mingyu Lin

A Sweet Life is not a long piece, but in the short time we spend with it we go on quite a journey. Alice Langrish plays Kelly, a plastic surgeon who’s a bit overwhelmed by the stress of it all. Guleranna Mir’s short study of how far people will go to escape the weight of responsibility of the modern world is strange, funny, and slightly disturbing. Alice Langrish’s performance is full of energy and conviction, and Mingyu Lin’s direction keeps the piece driving forward at a breakneck pace. A Sweet Life is an absurd, hilarious dive into the psychology of a woman taking her obsession to the extreme.

 

The Mighty Oak Conqueror by Mike Carter, Performed by Tom Michael Blyth, Directed by Katherine Timms

The final piece of the evening, The Mighty Oak Conqueror, is a hilarious short comedy about a man who’s got himself stuck in a tree. Mike Carter’s piece is a parody of masculinity as our society defines it, and the foolishness trying to compensate for our insecurities by chasing a rugged cave-man identity. It follows Brian from St Albans, played with great skill and panache by Thomas Michael Blyth, as he tries to justify to passers-by why he’s got himself stuck up a huge oak tree.Blyth’s characterization of Brian as a classic English, sweater-clad namby-pamby is brilliantly realized, and he keeps the laughs coming with a sharp sense of comic timing and a deep understanding of his character. Mike Carter’s writing cleverly and skillfully captures the constantly over-intellectualizing and self-sabotaging nature of a man desperate to receive some kind of respect from anybody, even himself; and Katherine Timms’ directing wonderfully establishes the sense of swaying, unsteady vertigo of both the character’s physical situation and his shaky sense of self. Equal parts clever and hilarious, The Mighty Oak Conqueror is a worthy finale to a very entertaining and engrossing night of theatre.

 

After taking in Programme A, I am once again massively impressed by the quality of work on show at the One Festival. All of the pieces that make up Programme A show us characters struggling to come to terms with difficult truths, whether that be the loss of a loved one, the truth about our heroes, or our inability to live up to traditional standards of masculinity. Heartbreaking, yet hopeful, and always striking just the right balance of light and dark, Programme A is yet another fantastic offering by the One Festival.

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Programme C, The One Festival @ The Space

11 January – 27 January

The One Festival – Programme C

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After so thoroughly enjoying the One Festival’s Programme B, I was determined to see the rest of the pieces currently playing at The Space in Canary Wharf.  My next step was seeing Programme C, an eclectic collection of amusing, absorbing, and occasionally harrowing short pieces. Though all five pieces featured in Programme C are very different in tone and subject matter, they all have two big things in common. They all share a focus on the vividly drawn, oftentimes eccentric characters at their centre, and they’re all full of surprises.

 

Mansplaining: The Musical by Mike Carter, Performed by Stephanie Ware, Directed by Saffron Myers

The first piece of the evening, Mansplaining: The Musical, is a raucous and delightful good time. Its subject is talented, take-no-guff Broadway leading lady Ginger Valentine, played with charm and gusto by Stephanie ware. Ware portrays brilliantly the hard-working performer, constantly bedevilled on her journey to stardom by the men who want to steal her spotlight and undermine her success. Mike Carter’s writing gives the character wit, humour and strength, and his decision to set the piece on Broadway in the 1930’s emphasizes the universality of its feminist message, and echoes the revelations the world is collectively having about the entertainment industry today. That message is bolstered by comedic songs and musical numbers, imbuing the whole proceedings with pageantry, flash and fun. Overall, Mansplaining: The Musical is a defiant, charming and entertaining piece full of real character and old-school Broadway flair.

 

Home Time by David Hendon, Performed by Elizabeth George, Directed by Paula Chitty

Home Time, written by David Hendon and directed by Paula Chitty, is a harrowing piece about motherhood, shock and grief. Jennifer is a single mother with a young son, played with great feeling and sensitivity by Elizabeth George. She begins the piece sharing with us the many mundane joys, degradations and celebrations that motherhood entails. However, we soon realize that there’s something terrible she’s not telling us, and seeing her come to terms with this dreadful truth provides us with an honest and unflinching portrayal of shock and grief. Watching the piece, it feels like we spend a bit too much time with Jennifer before this event, and not quite enough time seeing her deal with the aftermath; an odd choice, considering the meat of the piece seems to come after the twist. However, despite a slightly meandering feel towards the beginning, this moving meditation on motherhood has much to offer for theatre-goers looking to have their heart-strings tugged.

 

Binkie and the Snowbirds by John Dixon, Performed by Tim Blackwell, Directed by Danielle McIlven

The third piece of the evening, Binkie and the Snowbirds by John Dixon, is all about subverting expectations. It revolves around a man and his dog, Binkie, who happens to be stuffed. The man, played with offbeat humour and sharp intelligence by Tim Blackwell, is telling his story to a “snowbird” in a Miami cocktail bar, promising more tantalizing details in exchange for just one more drink. We never know if we can trust him, as Binkie is constantly subverting expectations, to darkly comic or unexpectedly moving effect. As the piece unfolds, we come to learn that our possibly unreliable narrator carries a great loneliness beneath his chummy exterior, a loneliness which sometimes drives him to unusual extremes. Surprising and funny, Binkie and the Snowbirds is brought to vivid life by John Dixon’s witty writing and Tim Blackwell’s energetic performance.

 

Sixth Position Written and Directed by Louise Jameson, Performed by Holly Jackson Walters

Next is Sixth Position, an elegant meditation on potential, and the impossibility of knowing if it’s ever been met. Holly Jackson Walters plays a ballerina, or is she an ex-ballerina? This question is at the centre of Sixth Position, as it explores whether we need an audience to dance, or if just dancing is, on its own, enough. As we are told about this character’s past, we see more and more of who she is: her great uncertainty and doubt is gradually revealed to us. Holly Jackson Walters brings remarkable feeling to her role, particularly in her physicality, which gracefully and expressively captures a soft, light, hesitant joy. Sixth Position is a gentle, affecting, subtle piece about art and doubt, brought to life by a detailed performance from Holly Jackson Walters and engrossing writing from Louise Jameson.

 

Skyclad by Serena Haywood, Performed by Alexandra Donnachie, Directed by Lou-Lou Mason

The final show on the Programme, Skyclad by Serena Haywood, is a comic exploration of the ways young people seek acceptance and meaning in a confusing and uncertain world. Alexandra Donnachie plays Sophia ‘Fuschia’ Travis, a university physics student who’s just joined her university’s witchcraft association. Donnachie brings a charming awkwardness and self-deprecating humour to her character, and despite Fuschia’s eccentricities the audience is with her the whole way. Serena Haywood’s writing is funny in an understated, surprising way, and she accurately captures the way in which young people seeking acceptance band together in unusual ways. However, Fuschia’s new acceptance is not long-lived, and both Donnachie and Haywood seem to take great pleasure in exploring how this character filters her feelings of jealousy and betrayal through her newfound knowledge of Wicca. Skyclad is very funny, and provides a clear vision of the ways young people deal with loneliness, betrayal, and romantic conflict.

 

Programme C presents a diverse set of interesting, eccentric characters in moments of indecision, loneliness, betrayal and grief. The five pieces on show all have very different tones, but all are engrossing and all feature detailed, well-drawn characters. All together, I find Programme C to be another strong offering from the One Festival, an eclectic and exciting evening of character-driven theatre.

 

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Programme B, The One Festival @ The Space

9 January – 27 January

The One Festival – Programme B

 

One Festival – Programme B

 

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an evening of plays at the One Festival currently playing at the Space in Canary Wharf. I saw Programme B, a night of short, darkly comic pieces, all written and performed by women. Though the pieces feature four very different characters in very different situations, there is an overarching impression of being at a sort of confessional. We’re seeing all of these characters in moments of brutal, revealing honesty, and hearing them say things they can’t say in their normal lives.

 

Perfect by Rachael Claye, performed by Carianne Dunford
Directed by Danielle McIlven

In Perfect, a drunken substitute storyteller (Carianne Dunford) tells a group of children (the audience) a thinly veiled tale of depravity and greed. At lights up, we are greeted with the familiar sight of colourful plastic children’s furniture. But the warm feelings of childhood familiarity quickly dissipate as we get to know our storyteller. By framing us, the audience, as children entrusted to the care of the librarian, writer Rachael Claye and director Danielle McIlven create a sense dread as we come to realise just how honest our narrator is going to be. As the ensuing tale of sex, revenge and fairy-tale trickery unfolds, we begin to feel more and more like children seeing something they don’t really understand but somehow know is wrong. Dunford, Claye and McIlven have done an admirable job of reminding us what it might have felt like if, when we were children, we were to see an adult in a moment of inappropriate and uncomfortable weakness. Perfect is small, strange and intimate, like a flash of a long-suppressed memory.

 

Motherland written and performed by Naomi Joseph
Directed by Ellie Simpson

By contrast, Motherland feels big. Writer and performer Naomi Joseph paints a vivid picture of a young English/Indian woman’s day at a rugby match: we hear the crowd, we see the stadium, we meet all the different characters between the station and her seat. But beyond the day itself, we are shown how sports acts as a nexus of family, sex, race, death and, above all else, identity. As Naomi shares with us this great web of connections with intelligence and humour, we are shown a portrait of a young person staking a defiant claim to their identity. In giving us a snapshot of Naomi’s life, we are shown how constant that fight for identity is. She must reaffirm her Englishness to the man searching bags at the gate, assert her ability to keep up with her brother and her father, even defend her own name to the guy at the pasty shop. She meets every encounter with wit and strength, and crafts an unassailable case that she has as much a right to call herself English as anyone else in that stadium. It is her motherland, after all.

 

It’s Not a Sprint written and performed by Grace Chapman
Directed by Rachael Black

If Motherland shows us a young woman who is mature beyond her years, It’s Not a Sprint does quite the opposite. Grace Chapman plays Maddy, a woman who is celebrating her 30th birthday by running a marathon, and seemingly also by running away from all her problems. It’s Not a Sprint is full of wonderful surprises and twists, which I will be careful not to spoil. I will say that it’s hilarious, and deeply touching, and absolutely worth seeing. Chapman plays and writes Maddy with wit and love, as she goes on a journey that is oh so much more difficult than simply running twenty-six miles. It’s Not a Sprint explores and celebrates the challenges of learning to change, in all their painful glory. With this piece, Chapman and director Ellie Simpson have crafted a moving and funny piece about how growing up often has very little to do with age, and more to do with the decision to just keep going.

 

A Sweet Fade written and performed by Charlotte Powell
Directed by Orlando James

A Sweet Fade, the final piece of the evening, is striking in its authenticity, energy, and passion. Writer and Performer Charlotte Powell plays Abby, a barber as sharp and bright as her scissors. In many ways A Sweet Fade feels like a love letter, a love letter to barbering, to men, and to women, particularly those working in male-dominated trades. Abby is a beautifully drawn character, and it’s so easy to get completely lost in her funny stories and poetic insights. But underneath her charm and intelligence is a woman in struggle, desperately fighting for the freedom and respect she has earned, but held back by the misogyny of the men around her. A feelingly drawn piece, about pride and love and work, I recommend it heartily.

 

Overall, I was very impressed by what I’ve seen so far of the One Festival, and am looking forward to seeing more. Programme B, which seems to be an evening built around women in moments of darkly comic confession, was a moving, entertaining and enlightening experience. Though the pieces are short, and can occasionally feel a little bit rough around the edges, overall I find Programme B to be a very successful set of plays and a diverting and intimate evening of theatre.

 

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#OneFest18

Pheonix Rises, The Big House

8 November – 2 December 2017

by Andrew Day
Directed by Maggie Norris

Dylan Nolte 3

Photography by Dylan Nolte

Phoenix Rising, a re-staging and re-imagining of The Big House’ acclaimed debut play Phoenix, is the bitter, painful, but ultimately hopeful story of Callum (Aston Mcauley), an 18-year-old just leaving foster care trying desperately to chase his dream of becoming a runner. At his side are his friends Omar and Bready, his trainer Josiah, his girlfriend Nina, and a series of exhausted but well-meaning social workers.

But are they truly at his side? Well, as in life, it’s more complicated than that. The characters of Phoenix Rising behave like real people in a desperate situation: They are frustrated, they make mistakes, they are selfish and cruel and sometimes wonderfully kind. The Big House crafted a world full of hopeful, intelligent human beings constantly beaten down by a system that just doesn’t work the way it should.

Different characters respond to this assault in different ways: Aston Mccauley’s Callum is shown to be an intelligent and sensitive young man who is overwhelmed by rage at the injustice of his situation; Rebecca Farinre’s Hannah is a young mother so overwhelmed by the reality of raising a young daughter alone that she slowly and quietly disconnects from the world around her; and Perrina Allen’s Nina is so frustrated by the lack of prospects for her life that she lashes out at those around he with surprising and bitter cruelty.

A great triumph of Phoenix Rising is that all of these characters feel absolutely real. This is due in no small part to Andrew Day’s excellent writing, which manages to give sparklingly soulful and intelligent voice to the thoughts and feelings of these people. Day’s writing is expertly paced and always deeply human, breaking up the characters’ constant struggle with moments of levity, humour and hope. The play is unforgiving towards its characters, never giving them an easy way out, and constantly tempting them with false hopes; but that just means that when they finally do start to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we the audience know how much that hope truly means.

The acting, though inconsistent in parts, is generally very strong, and in places reaches truly beautiful moments of raw, bitter feeling. There are several moments throughout the play, for example: one in which the normally reticent Hannah pulls Callum into a surprising and much-needed embrace, that seem to spring from such a deeply felt and authentic place that one cannot help but be moved by them. There are many of these stark, human moments throughout the play, and each one is bracing and beautiful. In addition, the chemistry between Callum and his friends Omar (Jordan Bangura) and Bready (Daniel Akilimali) is wonderful, and any scene between the three of them is instantly lit up by an authentic joy and humour. Also worthy of praise is the harrowing, terrifying movement work of Oz Enver, who haunts and torments Callum as a twisted and grim spectre throughout the play.

Supporting all of these elements is the inspired choice of venue. Phoenix Rising is performed in the car park of London’s iconic Smithfield Market, and I cannot imagine a better place to tell this story. The audience is shepherded between the different rooms and environments set up around the car park, and the setting, along with some masterful lighting and set design choices, lead to a very full and authentic atmosphere. The play leads you from scene to scene, treading through the darkness towards an illuminated point ahead of you, a point which holds the secret of what will happen next in the story, as if you too were one of these characters, being pulled around by forces of fate beyond their control.

Phoenix Rising tells a bitter, painful story punctuated by moments of humour and humanity. It is a story that goes to unexpected places, and deals with characters that behave in unexpected but very believable ways. The brilliant writing, rich performances, and well-used immersive elements come together to support an all-too-real tale of young people trying their very best to get by in a system that just isn’t there to help them.

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This review was written by Sam Wells, Theatre Box’s newest contributor!