FringeReview UK 2019
East Anglia’s INK Festival tours its Feast From the East to Tristan Bates Theatre with nine plays: Richard Curtis Another Suitcase, Another Hall, Jackie Carreria Invisible Irene, Ed Jones, Ping Pong Club, Martha Loader After Prospero, Shaun Kitchener That’s Great, Shappi Khorsandi Nina’s Not Okay, Scarlett Curtis Wellington, James McDermott Mixed Up, Christopher Reason A Selfish Boy with a rotating cast and directors. Till 18th May.
Yes it’s a wonderfully various beast too, as East Anglia’s INK Festival tours its Feast From the East to Tristan Bates Theatre
Richard Curtis Another Suitcase, Another Hall
A singer’s trying to deliver a piece with an essential prop. A suitcase. The director keeps changing his mind. Whilst she’s singing. It’s a good sliver of fun from a major theatre writer and a perfect curtain-raiser, rather drawing attention to theatricality. Amber Muldoon’s the luckless Barbara, William Kempsell director John and Ed Jones Godfrey. There’s two directors, Julia Sowerbutts and Huw Brentall. A lot of personnel for a portmanteau play.
Jackie Carreria Invisible Irene
Ann Bryson as the eponymous Irene declares ‘I’ve never fired a gun, voted Brexit, or fracked a field in Suffolk, but I’ve got plenty of views on these things/’ She’s also holding aloft a t-shirt TWAT, and with much else on the clothes rail places it against her. The paradox for Irene is that as she expands into middle age, she becomes more invisible. when she was petite she was like a flash of neon. Double her old size she’s a ghost, holding aloft a small orange top she’ll never get back into. As she contracts trying on and discarding her rows of clothes, we feel a shiver of nakedness at the bulked-up woman and the denuded hangers. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart directs a pacey, witty plangent performance by Bryson.
Ed Jones Ping Pong Club
Here’s a delicious comedy, traditionally sourced with a twist including the exemplary use of ping pong sound throughout and great miming from the three-strong cast. Tim Bentinck’s maanged a tight, cleanly delivered miniature.
William Kempsell’s Richard and Holly Ashman’s Alice play ping pong in a work-break, a club that somehow Richard’s wangled, to Alice’s slight disapproval. He’s hopeless though cajoles Alice that she can never be as good. But he’s sweet on her. Richard seems despite his wangles an archetypal loser, only underlined by the man who’s come to restructure the company, and end things like the club. Will Howard’s Maxton just happens to be an ex champion (reserve Olympic) ping pong player.
Alice is initially charmed; very. Howard plays Alpha-mean though, and Richard’s desperate gambit is to challenge him to ping pong to save the club. Only he’s hopeless. And there’s no-one else…. Oops, assumptions assumptions. Kempsell’s flinchingly good as hapless Richard, Howard as a lean Alpha mincing machine (we see different sides to Howard later), Ashman plays a vocally smart, sassy, compelling hand with comic balleticism.
Martha Loader After Prospero
It’s good to end the first half with a more nuanced, serious piece, directed by Peter Kavanagh. It’s the most detailed set, with books strewn in crates and one comfy sofa. A parable about Brexit through the lens of The Tempest, it just about holds as metaphor (though the floods invoked might swamp it) and does rather better as an offbeat drama with depth and feeling.
Amber Muldoon’s Ariel has stayed, looking after her author father Prospero whose The Island like other books is always being chased for TV and film rights. But he’s died and in the floods that have rendered this area an island have allowed Ariel to have him hauled out and set adrift.
Tess Wojtczak’s returning Miranda, her marriage to Ferdinand over, has visited everywhere and experienced an unconsummated desire for a Norwegian woman, which liberates her. Still she experiences nostalgia for this island (we should be invoking Donne here, not Shakespeare) and paradoxically the far younger-looing Ariel miraculously preserved is the one seeing the bigger picture. Se reflects Ariel was a slave.
Both actors manage fury, sullenness and eventually melting rapprochement. There’s nuances from recrimination and regret to intimate colloquy, hostility moves to invoking Shakespeare and the Tempest they acknowledge celebrates edgy bits of colonialism, finally gently singing Ariel’s song…..
Shaun Kitchener That’s Great
Paul Schlesinger directs one of the two most developed comedies. The plot’s simple, the acting and nuances the thing. Ed Jones’ Rory is desperate to go out with Joseph Clayton’s Jake, and flatmate, Harry, Will Howard, is deperate to help him. There’s just a bit of a secret though in the large bed that forms the only thing on stage bar a door through which Rory perpetually comes and goes armed with advice from the well-intentioned Harry.
Harry though is just a bit troubled. Howard here shows a wholly different side to his Alpha-ness earlier, the kind man who for the best reasons isn’t being cruel enough to be kind, or maybe, just maybe he can wing this. Clayton as gung-ho Jake provides a bracing contrast, whilst Jones’ Rory is a masterclass in hurt disguising itself in the banalities suggested by the play’s title. Whilst Jake will never understand, Harry does all to well. It’s painfully funny.
Shappi Khorsandi Nina’s Not Okay
We now come to the first of the two shorts inspired by wellingtons, directed by Jane Zarins. Amber Muldoon’s 17-year-old Nina is thrown out of a nightclub, vomming and clawing her way back to consciousness. She bought her boyfriend some wellies to match with hers just as he dumps her in a gap year meeting an American on a plane. She reflects that by the side of a pretty blonde friend, she’s a pretty good plan B for any man. That’s the problem. She revises that opinion and grows up. Muldoon makes as much of this as she can. The wellingtons are vestigial, not integral, and this five-minute piece is necessarily very slight. But it’s fun and fast.
Scarlett Curtis Wellington
It’s not often a daughter gets the chance to showcase a play with her father, but this is the case here. Of the two, the daughter bears the prize away.
Director Jane Zarins returns for that other wellington play, and again the wellington got lost as a real motif. Three generations Barbara Horne’s Greenham grandmother Doris, Tessa Wojtczak’s charity-Blair-era Gloria, and Holly Ashman’s newly-politicised Sarah are watching the Royal wedding, sort of. Tensions arise when the eldest and youngest somehow round on the middle de-politicised Gloria, but soon enough there’s rapprochement. Comically Sarah leaves saying ‘don’t call e down unless a preacher talks of fire’ so you can see the punchline. More importantly Ashman’s idealist Sarah owns a vulnerability and warmth that comes to the fore, Horne a knowing layer of ancient reveals and Wojtczak most of all a layer of vulnerable guilt at not having acted. It’s a touching play and one of the four or five best.
James McDermott Mixed Up
James Christopher directs Will Howard as Adam, again Howard in a self-aware angst of sensitivity towards others, in this case Eve, the girlfriend who first met him with a 90s-style playlist, something that thematically ripples through this piece as Adam makes a final one for her.
And Eve’s not to be her for very long. She’s transitioning and though Adam’s been adamant in his support – even after that time Eve deleted all contacts even from family, the time’s come when Steve as Eve now wishes to be, feels differently about Adam, and he perhaps about her, or him.
The superb play Rotterdam dealt with this topic; here McDermott manages a superb moving piece achingly delivered by Howard in just a few minutes. He deploys miro language ad refrains towards the opening ad close to show the distance travelled. It’s a beautifully crafted piece, beautifully delivered and one of the two finest.
Christopher Reason A Selfish Boy
Like After Prospero directed by Peter Kavanagh who seems to have got his hands on two of the best and most layered, this is a play where discovery of what a parent laves is so compelling. Thus play though is a tiny masterpiece, easily the finest here. We soon learn why. Christopher Reason refers to Mrs Reason, his mother. Chris Larner is Chris Reason, at 20 in 1975 ending his second year at university. His mother Hilary Greatorex want tot ell him something, something he knows, and then something he doesn’t or rather she begins to.
It’s Reasons stagecraft that compels too as he orchestrates raw personal material into a storytelling that’s both bewitching and terrible.
Sashaying back and froth through childhood where he’s a selfish boy as he’s told at six, Reason, or Chris here narrates the ebb and flux of his mother’s depression as he grows up. There’s the father, a good man, but one who doesn’t seems to know how to da with his depressed wife. Greatorex’s spectral existence – she loves Brahms and the famous lullaby Intermezzo Op 117/2 plays here – is softly compelling: understated at first till you know what she’s containing.
It’s Larner’s commanding and anxious monologue that voyages round his mother, continually making quotable gestures of the past and peppering the narrative with mnemonics like ‘but I didn’t’ or proleptically ‘that hadn’t happened yet’ and literally evoking himself as someone standing outside time commenting on 1975 actions as they happen. That trip to Australia, her infatuation with a selfish man. So what was it, oh that suicide attempt, well Chris knew and for once in a world where truth-telling’s never been prized Chris admits he knows, through his sister Sally. Still there’s something else.
The pain slowly torn from Larner like bandages, matches Greatorex’s capacity for frozen suffering as various medications are thrust at her; above all her blank clarity. All this addresses much in a loving parental relationship whose core is guilt, of unworthiness and ultimately terrible isolation. This is a first-rate production.
I’ve not seen a festival of short plays to compare with these. Acting’s exemplary, some superb, the directing crisp and the material, if slightly variable produces mostly pieces with future inked deep in them.