9 January – 27 January
The 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.