Brighton Fringe 2016
“Just the usual open mic night at the Iron Duke. Until it wasn’t. Award winning writing and production team (ArgusAngel Winner, FringeReview Teapot Winner, FringeGuru Reviewers Choice) return with World Premiere of an exciting new play. A celebration of envy, success and song. Gritty, funny, painful stories shared on open mic night. Musicians & stand-ups perform in search of the Limelight”
Richard Linfield has done a masterful job of directing Limelight now playing at Sweet Dukebox. Although the theatre is very small, he manages to use the entire space to create small, dramatic vignettes off stage in this beautifully-paced tale about the people who perform at an open mic, all with their own back-stories. Most memorable and heartbreaking are the telephone conversations Kate (Stephanie Prince) has with the daughter who is supposed to attend the show and her invalid husband. As the audience take their seats, performers from other shows do a set and for this performance, Rebecca Perry sang up-beat, catchy selections from her own Fringe show, “Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl.”
The cast of characters are typical of people who long to get on a stage and become someone other than their everyday selves. You have Felix, beautifully realized by Conor Baum, a would-be star who managed to get to the tryouts for X factor and believes he could have made the program but for a family tragedy. There is Jim (Martin Malone) the jaded former star of a major band who sees the futility of these free performances done only for other would-be hopeful stars. He has been a regular at these weekly events but this is his last performance. “I’m accustomed to disappointment. It is good for my inner state of mind,” he says.
Kerry Williams gives a spot-on performance of Lucy the would-be stand up comedian doing her first gig. Her combination of determination and sheer terror is exactly how one feels the very first time he takes to the stage. “If you want to do comedy and you’re shit, you have to keep going until you’re not shit,” Felix advises her. She does manage to do her bit in the second half of the show, “My Angry Diary” and it is side-splittingly funny and so real it brought tears to this reviewer’s eyes.
Max Bower is the brash ego-soaked young performer who thinks he is the best ever, pushy, determined and actually not bad at all and Richard Linfield strikes just the right note as the former band player who now is part of the X-Factor team. Jim, always the cynic, pokes a pin in Tom’s aura of success when he says, ”At least I didn’t create my future, by building false hopes.”
The performance that steals the show is Stephanie Prince’s portrayal of Kate, who is the caregiver for her invalid husband 24/7, but takes this one night each week to sing her song. Prince never misses a beat in her masterful performance of a giving, kind and lovely woman who is desperate for time to be herself. The show takes place on her birthday and when she sings “Natural Woman”, dedicated to Jim who is about to leave their weekly meetings, your heart breaks. We all know that she only has these few hours every week when she isn’t nurturing someone else.
As the plot develops, we see that these people are performing at an open mic far more for themselves than as a stepping-stone to stardom. Jim says, “Most talented people are messed up,” and when he is offered a chance to once more be part of the successful band he once played in, he says,” I got an allotment and that is a commitment. I can’t just get up and leave.”
Felix too comes to terms with his own fears and delusions. Performing is never instant fame…it is slogging along day after day and night after night and maybe one day someone notices you. Just as often, no one will. Jim says, “You have to get out of the trenches and get out on the battle field until you know something’s right. You have to do it for yourself. “
Liz Tait is to be complimented for a script that encapsulates what an open mic really is. It is more for the performers than the audience and it is more about each of us discovering that creative spark within us, and being brave enough do what it takes to test it out.
This is a professionally produced production with something valid and meaningful to say. It is well worth seeing.