The Significant Other Festival @ The Vaults

Made up of a series of 10 short plays, each also 10 minutes long, The Significant Other Festival by The Pensive Federation is a collection of work celebrating relationships. From couples to friends, to family and acquaintances, the mini-festival is an eclectic mix of stories created in just 10 days. Though some do stand out more than others for their stronger stories, overall it is a pleasant experience.

In Flurry, written by Olu Alakija, three old friends meet in a forest, looking for the spot they buried a corpse. Alakija’s language explores actions of violence and remorsefulness well, neatly fitting a lot of information compactly into a short period of time. The direction by Sophie Flack instantly creates an eerie and cold atmosphere befitting it’s subject, making Flurry stick out from the rest with its dark theme.

Rob Greens’ Overcast is another memorable piece, which examines sex, relationships and virtual dating. When a man and a woman fall in love with the same person, it takes a third to help them realise the truth – their love is not reciprocated. Greens’ cleverly written exchanges are full of detail, and the piece is very well performed by the actors (Christi Van Clarke, Hanna Lucas, Jamie Coleman), who capture their characters’ quirks perfectly.

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While some of the playwrights were able to create great situations in such a short period of time, others struggle to give their characters and their stories enough depth, creating some confusing pieces of work. Alexander Williams’ Gust, which focuses on a group of housemates, is very hard to make sense of. It requires a lot of hard work to keep up and understand the story, especially as the relationship between the characters is unclear throughout. In the end there is no comfortable conclusion, leaving it flat.

Similarly, Sylvia Arthur’s Haze is difficult to follow. Three siblings are at their mother’s funeral when one discovers a photo of her in bed with a man. As they discuss the photo, the conversation turns to each of their relationships with their mother, and politics. Arthur’s text is erratic, and the constant jump from one character to the other gives the piece an irregular rhythm, making it distracting to watch and overall quite dull.

The short plays are connected to each other through the theme of weather – each playwright was given a weather condition to write the play around – but other aspects connect them to one another too. A pair of binoculars, a tape measure and some badminton rackets make an appearance in more than one piece. This makes it feel like they connect with each other which is a nice touch, emphasising The Pensive Federation’s collaborative way of working. Although some of the plays are more engaging than others, the fact that the team work together to stage each piece in just 10 days is very impressive and admirable, and even for that reason alone, it’s worth a visit to The Significant Other Festival.

The Significant Other Festival is at The Vaults until 18th April.

Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ @ Latvian House

Bringing to life some of Eugène Ionesco’s characters, and even himself, Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is a French and English celebration of the absurdist playwright and his work, directed by Marianne Badrichani. The show has some great portrayals, and although it could have included more ‘immersive’ elements, its inviting atmosphere elevates the whole experience.

Before you are guided through to the dinner party, the butler (Jorge Laguardia) hands over the evening’s menu to examine – which gives an idea of which Ionesco works to expect. Once seated at the long table in the centre of the dining room, Mr and Mrs Smith (Sean Rees and Lucy Russell) join the party. Their guests Mr and Mrs Martin (David Mildon and Edith Vernes) arrive, although late and apparently convinced they are complete strangers, and the full hilarity of the absurdist characters ensues.

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The whole event is quite pleasant. The ensembles give admirable performances of classic Ionesco, with snippets from The Bald Soprano and The Lesson. Russell is hilariously British as Mrs Smith, deliver the intricate dialogue delightfully. Laguardia has an immense likability that leaves a lasting impression, even though he is not as strong as the other performers. His charm is present from the start as he ushers guests in, through to his brilliantly boring anecdote as the Captain of the Fire Brigade later on in the performance.

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The most enjoyable scenes are those where Rees, playing Ionesco, is interviewed. Though the actors stand around the table firing questions in French (and English) as though in a press conference, these scenes feel quite intimate, giving insight into the playwright’s life – his thought-process, his fears, his influences.

The set and site-specific aspect of the piece is very enjoyable, the interior of the venue befitting the dinner scene. But with such a great space and set, if feels as though there should be more immersive parts to the play, and it’s disappointing to find out there isn’t. That’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable experience. As a piece of absurdist theatre, Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is a brilliantly performed and directed combination of all the best bits of Ionesco you can fit into just over an hour, with a set-up that activates the senses.

Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is at Latvian House until 1st April.

The South Afreakins @ VAULT Festival

The South Afreakins is a comic and heartfelt story of an elderly couples’ emigration from South Africa to New Zealand, inspired by writer and performer Robyn Paterson’s own family. In this one-woman show Paterson plays both roles – Gordon and Helene – and her energy feeds the imagination, making it feel as though both are genuinely present on stage.

When Gordon’s retirement finally sets in, Helene is determined to convince him to move to New Zealand from their home in a South Africa – to leave behind her fears and the memories of her murdered son. Reluctantly, Gordon joins her on this journey, and as Helene becomes comfortable and confident with her surroundings, he becomes more and more isolated in his new home.

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It’s takes a bit of time to get used to Paterson switching between the two characters, as well as trying to understand Gordon’s especially thick South African accent – this isn’t helped by the fact that our initial introduction is in the dark and behind the curtain making Paterson’s voice quite muffled. But once she gets into her stride, it’s a delight to see her as the old couple. Her characterisation is brilliantly thought-out and her mannerisms as each person are hysterically on point. By the end you’re heartbreakingly invested in both characters.

Paterson is a strong performer. She fills the stage with life and her familial ties to the story add warmth to her performance. The show is hilarious from beginning to end, but does have some intense sobering moments highlighting themes of displacement, immigration and race. The South Afreakins is a great piece of work expertly put together and performed by Paterson.

The South Afreakins is at the VAULT Festival until 19th February.

Crime & Punishment @ Jack Studio Theatre

Initially only creating work from the Shakespeare canon, Arrows & Traps have more recently been staging other classic adaptations, including Anna Karenina and now Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment. Using Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s text, director Ross McGregor has created an evocative piece of theatre, full of fantastic performances.

Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) an ex-law student, has committed a crime. He relives the events in his mind, through the help of the detective Porfiry (Stephen MacNeice) and a prostitute named Sonia (Christina Baston). By conjuring each person relating to the crime in his head, he is forced to search for redemption. As he pursues answers, more questions about his psychological state and religious outlook arise, unveiling what lead him to his criminality.

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Photo: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative

The play puts emphasis on the language of the characters, so the text itself is an important focal point, relying on the actors to perform them well. Tester performs Raskolnikov with a brilliant balance of intelligence and conflict. The development of his character from a man obsessed with becoming extraordinary to his descent into madness is exquisite to watch. However, Baston stands out the most with her characterisation and ability to encompass each character she plays with ease and strength, giving a commendable performance.

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Photo: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative

Karl Swinyard’s lighting coupled with the limited set and only three performers gives this a very intimate feel. McGegor’s choice in doing that allows the actors to focus on their characters, prioritising the storytelling element of the piece. The ensemble cleverly draws you into the small space, and you’re soon eager to find out more about the protagonist.

Arrows & Traps have successfully created an engaging adaptation of Crime & Punishment where the performers have you hooked from beginning to end. There is never a dull moment, and with such a great text to work with, what appears on stage is a striking piece of theatre.

Crime & Punishment is at the Jack Studio Theatre until 25th February.

Cholera Street @ Arcola Theatre

Arcola Theatre’s Turkish performance collective Ala-Turka’s new show is a stage adaptation of Cholera Street – a novel written by Metin Kacan. The story explores the violent underworld of Istanbul, concentrating on just one street in the city, following the lives of its residents. While the play maintains the strong grit and witty language of Kacan’s text, Aylin Bozok’s direction is clumsy, leaving the show feeling flat.

Mechanic Salih (Yilmaz Eser Durmus) is the son of the respected barber Ali (Riza Keskin). Although married, Ali frequently visits the neighbourhood brothel, while his wife (Serpil Delice) is locked away at home. When a serial killer begins to slowly destroy the street and murder its residents one by one, Salih feels obliged to look after the neighbourhood, which proves to cause more problems than it solves.

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Some performers stand out for their terrific characterisation. Buke Soyusinmez is brilliant as Puma Zehra, a larger than life prostitute who has been in the game for a long time. She gets the most laughs with her tiny demeanour but very caricatured representation. Durmus’ Salih is likeable and sympathetic, but Orhan Kanalp as Salih’s brother Reco is the more relatable sibling. He encapsulates the intelligence and depth of his character which is a great contrast to some of the others, making him stand out the most. His strength is bold when compared to Keskin’s Ali, who lacks any kind of authority as the patriarch of his family, making it difficult to believe he truly has a strong hold over his children and especially his wife.

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At times it becomes difficult to understand what is happening on stage, especially during the scenes where there is no speech but a series of mimed actions. These are set to a brilliant soundtrack, and evocative lighting by Michael Paget, but the lack of props makes it hard to gauge what is actually happening. The performers do not appear to present any clear indication of what they’re doing. The actors compensate the lack of language with over-dramatic performances, almost resembling old Turkish films from the Yesilcam era. Unfortunately these borrowings feel dated in a production like this, making these sincere scenes feel overly comedic.

The text itself is poignant and the the themes explored are thought-provoking with some terrifically written subtle comedy weaved in. Although some of the performances are terrific, unfortunately the execution lacks any of these elements of the text.

2 Become 1 @ King’s Head Theatre

Kerri Thomason and Natasha Granger’s 2 Become 1 is an upbeat musical exploring female friendship and the evolution of dating, set to a 90s soundtrack. Bursting with nostalgia and girl power, the play perfectly captures the pop-culture of the era, and the talented cast present some truly hilarious renditions of these classic songs.

Jess (Granger) has just been dumped by her boyfriend, and to stop her from wallowing in self-pity, her friends decide to take her on a night out. From speed dating, to using Cosmo tips to impress men, to singing in the ladies loos, the girls do their best to cheer up Jess’ broken heart. But in the end, after a quick stop at the chippy, Jess realises she doesn’t need a man when she is surrounded by girl power.

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Photo: Liam Prior

The chemistry of the cast is exquisite on stage and it genuinely feels like these women have been friends for a long time. Granger captures the distressed dumpee’s character perfectly, and her physical comedy is brilliant. The stand-out performer of the piece is Jessica Brady, who plays the obsessive and fickle-hearted Amanda. Her powerful voice is the perfect fit for Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You,’ and along with the audience participation, this is the highlight of the piece.

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Photo: Liam Prior

While presenting a female-centric view through their characters, Thomason and Granger split the action with real-life recordings of men and their opinions on dating. Contrasting the 90s action with the contemporary recordings highlights just how much dating has changed in such a short period of time, especially with the internet. We see the character Molly (played by Thomason) muse about this at the end of their girls night out, commenting on just how ridiculous it would be to form opinions of people based just on the way they look.

Thomason and Granger have created a short and energetic piece, full of laughs and great throwbacks. Though their is an overarching theme about modern-day dating practices and how unorthodox they are when compared to 20 years ago, this is a very light-hearted show. With just the right amount of cheesiness, 2 Become 1 is a delight, and a great alternative Christmas treat.

2 Become 1 is at the King’s Head Theatre until 7th January.

A Christmas Carol @ Above the Arts Theatre

The holiday season means a whole host of Christmas shows, especially adaptations of A Christmas Carol (two have been programmed at the Arts Theatre alone), but The Flanagan Collective stand out from the crowd with their immersive experience. Complete with parlour games, Christmas crackers and a two-course meal, the company brings to life Dickens’ festive ghost story in spectacular fashion.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Al Barclay) is sitting alone at his desk on Christmas Eve, miserable about the festive season, and refusing to give to charity. Suddenly the ghost of his dead business partner Jacob Marley (Jack Whitam) appears, along with a room full of spirits. Marley and the other ghosts take Scrooge back to the Christmas of his childhood, celebrate Christmas in the present, and show him glimpse of future Christmas, in the hope that he gains some Christmas joy.

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Photo: Mat Johns

This extremely entertaining two-hander is expertly performed by both Barclay and Whitam, who keep the audience engaged throughout the show. As you walk into the space, the long dining table is an indication of the upcoming hearty meal of pies and trimmings, provided by chef Danny Jack. The audience are involved in the story straight away, acting as the spirits alongside Marley’s ghost, so participation feels easy and pleasant. This is of course helped by the cheerful Whitam who guides everyone through each element of the evening with laughter and wit.

Writer Alexander Wright and director Tom Bellerby have brilliantly created an immersive experience that is engrossing, filling, and genuinely fun. Dickens’ story is perfectly weaved around the dinner in the middle of the show, with just the right amount of spookiness necessary for the Victorian setting. If you’re looking for a joyfully festive evening with laughter and great entertainment, A Christmas Carol is the show for you.

A Christmas Carol is at Above the Arts Theatre until 31st December.