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FringeReview UK 2017

Short Play Festival

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Comedy, Contemporary, Drama, New Writing, Short Plays, Solo Performance, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre, Theatre Upstairs


Low Down

Six new plays – two by actors taking part – and six directors, all developed by NVT’s nurturing over the past year culminates in this short festival. Simon Glazier and George Walter ensure the Upstairs theatre varies even with elegant minimal propos neatly recycled on a few occasions. Steve Coulson modifies lighting as required fro the glare of a police room to the shadows in a vestry. Ian Black’s sound brings comedy and drama, sometimes with telling results in a few seconds.



This puts New Venture Theatre onto a new footing, where it joins established theatres like the National, Royal Court, Young Vic, Orange Tree and just a few others in profiling new writing and directing talent. NVT’s not on their funded scale, but in its own category it’s as far as I know, unique. It’s in fact the successful mentoring of one dramatist by NVT who went on to the Royal Court which has inspired this. If it was an annual, even bi-annual event, it would change things in the south east.


Six new plays – two by actors taking part – and six directors, all developed by NVT’s nurturing over the past year culminates in this short festival. There’s gender parity with directors and hearteningly five dramatists are women, which echoes something of the national gender shift of emerging dramatists. Just as usefully, it’s not highlighted.


There’s several patterns running through these plays. Two are legal, involving witness statements or police interviews. Two mention weddings though one’s about one. Two involve doubles of a kind. Only the last doesn’t fit and that’s because it’s a foursome!


Simon Glazier and George Walter ensure the Upstairs theatre varies even with elegant minimal propos neatly recycled on a few occasions. Steve Coulson modifies lighting as required fro the glare of a police room to the shadows in a vestry. Ian Black’s sound brings comedy and drama, sometimes with telling results in a few seconds.



Amy Onyett Sorry                                


This monologue directed by Sabrina Giles places Jenny Alborough’s Anne as a sensitive, mouse-timorous woman whose keynote is the title she’s attempting to overcome through relating in an interview why she’s acted as she has.


Mostly we’re treated to Alborough’s convincingly flinch-ridden Anne relating the pattern of her non-confrontational life. The climax really introduced new material and the title word takes on a new meaning in her mouth, a courageous affirmation. In one sense this could have been shorter, though in extending it Onyett’s attempting to hallucinate us with one mindset whilst ambushing us with its consequences. Alborough’s ideal in this, dextrously conveying her hand-wringing resolve.



Sarah Charsley         You’ll Do


Charsley – who appears in the last play – also deploy a key phrase as the play’s trigger. It’s Kasha Goodenough’s response as Hannah to Deborah Slots Vicar when asks if she takes Chris Gates’ Matthew to be her husband. Matthew’s livid and I front of us, the congregation takes Hannah backstage where their real desires unravel.


Slots manages deft shock, Goodenough a sparky backsliding outrage, and Gates a winning cringe-worthiness that energize and blast their confrontations. Jeremy Crow, familiar onstage, knows how to pace a real swathe of wit so it never drags like an overlong bridal veil, or trips anyone up.


It’s a wonderfully mouthy play: jokes about appalling guests invited to the evening instead because they’re unknown or disliked, Chris’s parents declaring a truce for the first time in years, others stuck on motorways; great aunt Vera practising her jive moves. All the compromise diets and planning hang on the fact that each thought to please the other and not themselves.


This comprises the most sparkling toe-curling dialogue of the sequence, and the conclusion’s heartwarming, carrying its own un-churchy lessons. And there’s a thought about champagne and what to do about those evening guests.



Michelle Donkin Impact Statement              


Erica Fletcher delicately picks out what Diane Robinson’s June is confronting when composing her impact statement as a victim for the monster in the dock who’s perpetrated a crime she’ll not forgive. Luckily her daughter Helen, Charly Sommers (whose own ply comes last) is on hand when June intones : ‘… if I do it, it’s got to mean something, say something… good words.. clever and meaningful’ otherwise they’re judging her, not him.


Helen’s been on a creative writing course and at each stage too acts as foil and counsel to her mother. Each detail’s significant and a plot giveaway. You might feel it’s a straightforward guess but the creative elegance of this piece is the decision made at the end. Sommers’ role is low-key reasonableness so Robinson can bounce her feelings, ideas and resolutions off her. Lighting at the conclusion is helpful here too. Expertly designed for its scope Impact Statement exactly delivers.



Nicholas Richards The Doppelganger


There’s always a baggy monster that makes you want to extend the conclusion and reflect it’s more a half-hour in embryo than twenty-minute piece.


The Doppelganger vies with You’ll Do for dialogue. Jack, Mr Saturday night is a stand-up celeb who’s boring off-stage and is all for giving up to return to his wife and children. His management, the marvellously-acted duo of Lewis’ loud Paddy Cooper and Peter’s American moustachio’d twirl of Barry O’Shea think otherwise: they need him outrageous, offensive, drunk, three-in-a-bed, breaking up with his wife to get back, the usual. And they have a weapon.


Before Jack we’re treated to his double loud-mouthed near-talentless wannabe stand-up, also acted by David Eaton who manages his two-brain identity with aplomb. Gareth will enact everything Jack never dares, and does. Alex Louise’s chat-sow host Lavinia is duly insulted – Louise shifting from smarm to scream in a beat. Jack’s insulted as much and there’s a showdown.


I longed for the one confrontation not envisaged, the real Jack and Lavinia, and some twist and masterstroke at the end. Something to lift a hilarious premise beautifully delivered away from its predicted arc. Tom Slater-Hyndman times this to a turn, which is what we often get. It’s tight, very funny, and the acting superb. Eaton’s excellent though his agents Cooper and O’Shea almost steal the show. But then Eaton has Gareth up his spectacles.



Sam Chittenden Moving Slowly


Sam Chittenden’s appearance here is only a faint anomaly in that we know her – not only as a superb actor, but in such pieces as Underworlds and other Fringe one-woman shows more than an emerging dramatist. Perhaps more than a two-hander might have stretche her further but this reviewer doesn’t care. Here we’re in the presence of an accomplished master of atmosphere.


Moving Slowly does exactly what its forecast title suggests. To a litanic incantation of shipping areas Sarah Wiliams’ Amanda intones in a 1956 accent and dress the kind of recitation still familiar to us, though as her friend Mandy identically dressed behind a screen reminds her, ‘Heligoland’ is now ‘German Bight’. But is it here that Amanda’s Robbie was lost to German U boats? These eddies like isobars knotting emotions in vectored swirls around lows and depressions contour Emmie Spencer’s pacing of this atmospheric play, as refracted and dense as one of those fogs around Mumbles.


Williams is superb, Emma Hutton’s Mandy equally so in her bright-toned positiveness. Spencer having played Hester Collier in The Deep Blue Sea here so recently knows exactly what she needs from this work as well as her actors.


We’re treated to a voyage around Amanda, forty-two, unable to move on with her life, trapped in a circle of depression that never lifts. Mandy, luckier and more objective cajoles and corrects her, as she tries to grit through her recitation. There’s Outlook Unsettled: shrewd historical placements, Barbara Castle and Hugh Gaitskill and their response to the Troy political front led by Anthony Eden, the outfall of the Suez Crisis meaning Britain can’t honourably deal with Hungary’s Uprising.


Perhaps a few less recits and more arias around what that history might mean to Amanda and Mandy might anchor this very specifically set piece. I felt a Hungarian refugee might make an off-stage appearance, obvious as that may seem – but Chittenden would know exactly what to do with such a situation. The reveal is hinted at, you can ignore or embrace it.


Chittenden already promises so much, and this is the most original drama – as opposed to comedy or farce – on show here. What we have though is haunting, heartening and inhabits its world so thoroughly you want to know what life, even mreo than Chittenden, will do with Amanda or Mandy.



Charly Sommers The Swing                        


Charly Sommers declares farce this was inspired in part by a friend’s experiences. Blokey Dave – Nicholas Richards handsomely seedy in demeanour and delivery – has cajoled his shrinking wife Catherine (Sarah Charsley) to meet experienced swingers Cyndi and Mario. Charsley’s squirming embarrassment recalls an Ayckbourn character bullied by a noisy husband who gradually learns confidence beyond his liking. James Macauley paces this at the gentle breakneck of situation farce so although there aren’t multiple doors opening the noises off tell us everything.


And what a tale with. Vamp Cyndi bowls in, Kate McGann having appeared in Holes and making the same explosive impact edged with eye-rolling comedy as she adjusts to Dave’s displaced awkwardness. His wife’s so nervous he claims, it worries him.


Mike Stubbs’ Mario however last seen in The Homecoming looks like her father at least but carries that glint of authority that made him memorable in the previous play. Yet of course it’s Dave who’s thrown, Catherine, well Mario isn’t a monster. There’s just the one bedroom. In fact the onstage couple encounter every embarrassment whilst the couple upstairs… But this experienced duo have more tricks for the bashful or embarrassed than you’d ever imagine. Unless of course you’re an experienced swinger. The denouement’s delicious, unexpected and ah… satisfying. Expert farce, with a life as well as leather to it.



The polish and work with these plays shows. I’d love to see them again, whilst a wish list would have two of them slightly longer, to let their potential mastery breathe even more freely. Many of us will hope with NVT that we can see this formula repeated regularly, to enrich drama, dramatists and directors – indeed actors and everyone involved – in the south-east.