Brighton Fringe 2011
New plays in a more experimental format from the Bite-Size stable, with plates of food and more than one performance space!
Bite-size deliver another new menu of short plays, this time accompanied by a mini banquet delivered up by waiters in formal attire. The stage is set, the audience sit cabaret style, the backs of our palms stamped (yeuch, I want a ticket). The lights go down.
It’s a near full house. But as the run develops they’ll need to work harder at delivering on their promise of an "immersive theatre" experience. Only in two of the scenes was there any truly immersive theatre at work.
Now, onto the plays themselves. This is where Bite-Size usually deliver, and deliver they do, right from the opening mime of Chris Cresswell.
The Rehearsal by Michael Kalenderian is first up. Set in a cafe. Anthony Reed is "people central", a relationship chameleon with an Iphone4, rehearsing what he plans to say. He plays it with just the right amount of tragicomic regret and a hint of Ricky Gervais. And thumbs up for where this was physically staged in the space, to the side, he was among us, and that worked a treat.
Second up is Peter Holland’s All Hail. And we turn our attention to the main stage. Andy Hutchinson needs to be louder, there’s an imbalance between him and the full-voiced Lisa Bereford. A light but engaging piece about bit parts and lead roles, about ego and insecurity. It will get better if they run it a bit more and it still felt a little too script-reliant. And the script itself was a little too forced. That said, the two actors give it plenty and pull it off.
Next up is Lucy Kaufman’s "Vintage" – a piece about the traps of time and the walls we build around us to keep us safe that also brick us in. Here we are in a kind of frozen Hell and a surrealistic piece emerges that engages more as it progresses. Oh, and there’s strong character acting here. But we’re rather too lost in the traditional audience-stage format and the immersive, site-specific promise seems to have been temporarily abandoned.
Taking us to the interval is Suspicious Minds by David Bulmer. Stephanie Prince is always an intense and watchable talent. This is a fun little black comedy. Gary is dead from a freak accident. The tale unfolds. But now we are fully back into straight theatre mode. Why?
For the second half we are ushered up to the White Room. A white-dressed woman luxuriates in a leather armchair. The audience has been divided in two. It’s the night before a wedding…A high-octane piece, it works better as we are close to the action and feel involved in the scene. This is one of the more successful immersive theatre pieces of the evening. Yet what doesn’t quite work is being immersed in a piece that becomes increasingly slapstick and silly.
We then transition into a red room, surrounding a coffin, are offered lush refreshments by mein host before being moved once more into a green room to witness an old Bite-Size favourite. No spoilers here but another black comedy, well and pacily delivered.
Back into the room with a coffin for the final piece, a dose of post-fatal honesty. This last piece really does make use of the site-specificity and our closeness to the action creates an affecting intimacy with the characters. Here the immersion is a virtue – intimate, affecting and well performed. This one is five star Bite-Size.
The pieces all feel authentically like short plays and I’m glad about that as some of the recent Bite-Size material has felt too sketch-like. But the humour in the short plays still leans a bit too much towards getting sketch-like laughs. Let the laughter in the plays come forth theatrically and less like sketch comedy. Then we’ll be in five star territory.
Criticisms aside, there’s still no one to touch the Bite-Sizers for short play collections, in Brighton, Edinburgh, or anywhere else for that matter. But this show makes some promises it has yet to fully deliver on. There is a banquet of plays, but the food isn’t a banquet. It is only in the second half that the site-specific intentions are successfully realised. And the transitions were clumsy and ill-defined. Not all of the pieces are as strong as each other, but the weakest is still pretty good, and well acted. An impressive debut and worthy experiment with some good intentions that do not reach the standards of Bite-Size’s more traditional format. But it’s highly recommended for the high quality acting and what it is trying to achieve. Well worth seeing.