Brighton Year-Round 2019
Three solo performers present short pieces, as part of the Lewes Festival of Solo Theatre. All are either self-declared works-in-progress or retain the freshness of nascent creation. The creative juices – and some literal fruit juices – are free-flowing.
At a ‘compilation’-style theatre event, it is inevitable, I guess, for the human mind to seek connections between the different works on offer. Doing so may well be redundant; for all I know, the three pieces presented in this hour may have been plonked together completely arbitrarily, with no consideration of shared theme or format. But we humans do like to make sense of things.
There’s a clear link between the first two pieces – they’re rooted in southern European culture, and have strong themes of family. Neither of these applies to the final offering, but it is at the start of Kirsty Howell’s tail-ender that the puzzle is solved. The theme of her piece, she tells us, is ‘place’. Ah! That’s the link! It’s a touch tenuous, perhaps, but I’ll run with it. This hour has been about place.
The setting for Denize Levette’s short piece ‘Fruit’ is a meeting of the self-help group Fruitaholics Anonymous. We the audience are very cleverly cast in the role of other attendees, but all the speaking parts, both at the meeting and in the various flashback vignettes that ensue, are played by Denize herself. And boy are there a lot of characters! Not just family members, delivery drivers and addiction gurus, but also snakes and donkeys, and by the end, even the pineapples are talking to us. Some characters are more fully developed than others; it took me a while to realise, for example, that the moody Zarah who plonks herself down on the chair at the start is the same character who then begins with an entirely different energy to tell us about her father’s fruit-obsession.
The piece ends with a superb coup de thêàtre, as the table of fruit centre stage is utterly ravaged, spraying several rows of audience with citric juices. The theme of fruit is merely a conduit for a far more fundamental exploration of family ties and a yearning for the cultural norms of one’s homeland. The writing is highly accomplished, and the character-switching is performed with great aplomb. As she grows in confidence with her material, Denize will continue to have more fun with each character, find more details and quirks to distinguish them beyond their superficial gaits and voices.
Such details are clearly the forté of this evening’s second performer, Giulia Menichelli. Her work-in-progress, When I Call Your Name, is very funny in the writing, though the moments that provoke the most raucous spontaneous laughter are all subtle physical asides – ways of holding mimed hairpins, and the sneaky look given as a dram of spirits is added surreptitiously to a non-alcoholic drink.
Giulia gave us three scenes from a planned full-length piece, charting a relationship from the morning of the wedding through to ultimate collapse. By far the jolliest of the scenes, and also the most successful, was the first – a hilarious conversation between a bride-to-be (who speaks Italian) and her maid of honour (who speaks English – this mixture of languages works very well, and I had zero trouble following the conversation even though I don’t speak a word of Italian, a language which after all is delightfully easy on the ear). There is space for retaining more of this lighter humorous touch in the darker material to be found in the subsequent scenes.
I absolutely love having my perception challenged about what constitutes live performance, and for this reason, Kirsty Howell’s short piece Embracing Nature was a delight. In a nod to theatre being traditionally about the visual sense, Kirsty began by placing a few objects – most memorably a pair of walking shoes – at the front of the stage, as emblems of what is to come. From then on, our eyes were superfluous, and it was all about our ears.
Kirsty invited us to close our eyes for the entire piece. She has criss-crossed the streets of Lewes, by foot, and recorded the town’s sounds as she did so. We hear these sounds, as she speaks some beautiful and philosophical accompanying prose. Our wanderings are bookended by a lovely meditation exercise.
Very special – and possibly accidental – moments ensue: occasionally the sudden sound of cars revving forces Kirsty to pause in her delivery, much as the natural world which inspires Kirsty most forcefully is interrupted by the manmade edifices of modern life. And often the most audible sound on the recordings is not the environment through which Kirsty walks, but the contact between her shoes and the ground. This gives the different locations an added texture, and allows us to experience the world through her eyes – to walk a mile in her shoes.
All in all, this was a fantastic event, well-organised and surprisingly well-attended for such a hard-to-find school hall. I feel inspired in my own art and the flexibility of the boundaries of theatre is revivified.