Untold Stories @ Arcola Theatre

Part of the SLAM season at the Arcola Theatre, Untold Stories is a collection of new short plays featuring work from new and established artists. Including subjects from race to old age to suicide, each of the seven stories brings something different to the stage, but some stand out more than others.

Bakersfield_Nathalie St. Clair.JPG

Bakersfield | photo: Nathalie St Clair

One of those is Bakersfield, a coming of age story set in 1950s Memphis about eighteen-year-old Tommy who wants to play pro baseball, but whose father thinks the army is better suited for him. Written and directed by Chris Udoh and starring Kingsley Amadi as Tommy, it tackles racism, friendship and the idea of duty. Udoh is a brilliant storyteller, who has managed to create complicated characters and weave them into an engrossing play. Amadi’s performance is commendable, bringing to life the text with superb energy, completely engaging the audience. I didn’t want it to end.

Emma Zadow’s A Tune of Two Muses is a dialogue between Lizzie Siddal (Amy Alan) and Jane Morris (Rachel August), the wives of Dante Rossetti and William Morris respectively. Much is speculated about the relationship between the two women, so Zadow’s idea to highlight the artists themselves, is a creative one. While both Alan and August perform the two women well, it’s Lysanne Van Overbeek’s direction that makes the piece feel flat. The energy stays on one level throughout, so after the first few minutes, it’s easy to get distracted and lose interest in an otherwise interesting concept.

london_dmascus_laura henry photography.jpg

London-Damascus | Laura Henry

It’s also worth mentioning London-Damascus – another stand-out short of the collection. Written and directed by Nick Moyles, the story follows an internet relationship that crosses two countries. Syrian Ahmed (Reece Matthews) and Englishman Adam (Freddie Wintrip) meet online and fall in love. Moyles’ story is well written, full of humour and emotion, with solid performances by both Matthews and Wintrip. While the ending feels like it goes on for a bit longer than necessary, it doesn’t detract from the strength of the story. The tragic conclusion is heartbreaking.

Untold Stories contains some well-formed and presented short plays, as well as some that have compelling subjects that may need work in their execution. Although there are stories that are more engaging than others, overall as a collective, they are funny, touching and complicated pieces of work that entertain and engage an audience.


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.

The Significant Other Festival (c) The Pensive Federation (4).JPG

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.