Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“It’s time to think outside the box, go crazy, go skydiving or just go to a different pub this Friday. Running at something is better than just running away, right? Or maybe it’s both? Especially when you start referring to yourself in the third person. Izzy’s Manifestos is a sharply funny, moving new play by Cardiff’s Kevin Jones (twice Bafta-Cymru nominated television drama editor). ‘Seize every hour, even if it does leave you dressed as a nun feeding the birds in your lunch break’ (Izzy). Izzy wants to be everything. She has to be.”
This hour-long solo theatre piece was developed out of a short play by Kevin Jones that was one of the Big Bite-size Breakfast Shows at the Fringe. It offers the opportunity for actor Claira Watson-Parr to play Izzy, a young woman seeking a sustainable way through life. She writes a manifesto (or, indeed, several) to serve her as a practical guide for getting safely through her life.
Quality solo theatre shows are rarer on the Fringe than you might think. Character acting over an hour is often caricature or, the opposite, naturalistic or watered-down in ways that desert theatricality too much. Izzy’s Manifestos finds the right balance between engaging, entertaining theatre, and authentic, believable story. That is down to three things – the writing, the acting and the direction. The writing is crisp, painfully funny and full of on-the-money observation. The acting is very assured, poised, charismatic and disciplined. The director has given this a very straightforward feel, unpretentious and accessible theatre being the satisfying result for an audience.
Because the writing is direct, rarely wastes a word, and has a story-book feel to it, we can sit forward and enter a tough, real story, full of pain, real-life description (the piece is presented as a real-time narrative) dark humour and we can sit back and be entertained, as if we were listening to a late night book at bedtime. On the way out I heard a very happy audience member say just that – and I agree). Now, that’s quality Fringe theatre – a piece that has depth, economy, texture, comedy and the pain that comes from experience and reflection. Izzy takes us on a live tour through her young life. She is prickly, sensitive, humorous, dead serious, clowinish; she learns life’s lessons, rejecting common sense in favour of danger and risk and wanting to be everything. You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want – that’s an old saying that Izzy challenges, and the consequences of that challenge give this piece the funnish authenticity that comes from life’s flow and stumble.
All of that’s a challenge for an actor to take on and Claira Watson-Parr excels – from accent, to gesture, from frown to hilarious rap, from one-liner quips, to emotional monologue, from storytelling to physicality, this performance is lush – you can taste it because it is wonderfully direct, in-your face-acting and told narrative. It isn’t perfect because, like Izzy, it is a little rough round the edges. Further performances will hone it, give the pacing a bit more craft and nuance. But, as it is, it is still extremely good. It took a few minutes at the start to really find its feet and there’s a bit more work needed to make sure it hits the stage running from the very first moment.
Love, loss, expectation, action and inaction, becoming unhinged and taking risks, self-realisation and obstinacy – so much interesting ground is covered here and the pace of the piece can feel , in places a little too hurried. I value this kind of work more when it has the courage to be silent, to slow down, to let subtlety play into high octane delivery. This I believe comes over time as a show’s run develops. This show feels early days still but that is why you should see it. What an excellent piece of writing that feel fresh, even raw, in the assured hands of a highly skilled character actor and the Bite-size team.