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Review of RESPONSE 3: REALITY and QUARRY at the Old Red Lion Theatre

As a theatre director said to me whilst we happen to be discussing ‘evenings of new writing’ (apparently, the term ‘scratch nights’ have gone out of favour), such events can sometimes feel like a homework exercise. The same point was acknowledged by Response 3: Reality director Lotte Ruth Johnson, who remarked in a post-show discussion that it is a challenge for both cast and audience to engage with monologues like these in a black box setting – but it is a testament to the actors and the playwrights that it was possible to fully engage with each and every one of the four short plays that comprised this showcase of emerging writers and actors.

Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart, Performing REALITY by Jacoba Williams, as part of Response 3: REALITY
Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart, Performing REALITY by Jacoba Williams.

Reality by Jacoba Williams and performed by Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart is set in an extra-curricular ‘drama club’. Their homework assignment is straightforward enough, and fitting for a drama club: learn the lines designated to the character each pupil is to perform in an end-of-term school play. The drama club leader likes the cultural mix, and believes the schoolchildren of today are relatively privileged to enjoy such a rich diversity of cultures and lifestyles in the school community. Some old attitudes remain, however, including an entirely negative curriculum for Black History Month – that is, pupils learn about the slave trade, segregation in the United States, and the signs, still within living memory, that read, “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’. But nothing, apparently, about the positive aspects of black history – Nelson Mandela’s presidency of South Africa, for instance, or President Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House. Some bittersweet comic relief comes with regards to trouble the teacher experiences with having her hair done in certain salons still culturally insensitive (she is, in her own words, “mixed race”). A thoughtful play showing that there has been much progress made with regards to equality but there is still so much more to be done.

Mia Lysandrou, Performing TOURMALINE by Katherine Hurley
Mia Lysandrou, Performing TOURMALINE by Katherine Hurley.

Tourmaline by Katherine Hurley and performed by Mia Lysandrou shows two characters. One privileged enough to not have a nightmare commute each morning. The other is not having the best start to the day, thanks to yet more delays on Southern Railway. The latter’s story was infinitely more interesting to me – though there was much laughter to be had at the absurd and vacuous statements coming from the Lady With No Problems. At face value, our late-for-work lady is simply struggling to stay on top of everything, but as the narrative unfolds, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Office politics and family matters combine to create a perfect storm, and it’s a fascinating story. It also takes a skilled actor to portray two polar opposite characters so credibly: Lysandrou puts in a tour-de-force performance.

Faaiz Mbelizi, Performing DRY FEET by Emma Louise Webb
Faaiz Mbelizi, Performing DRY FEET by Emma Louise Webb.

Dry Feet by Emma Louise Webb and performed by Faaiz Mbelizi tells a story that gradually reveals increasing details, layer by layer. The narrator is a person of no fixed abode, despite a university education, a victim of family circumstances, unconnected with gambling or substance misuse. The storyline was a surprising one and a helpful reminder that many people are only less than half a dozen payslips away from homelessness. Statistics are rolled out towards the end of the play that some may consider slightly preachy, but they are put in context, with relatable scenarios and examples. A gripping and powerful play, I was left wondering what happened next.

Tiannah Viechweg, Performing QUARRY by Rachel Smart
Tiannah Viechweg, Performing QUARRY by Rachel Smart.

Quarry by Rachel Smart and performed by Tiannah Viechweg has expanded since its last showing (in Response 2: Power, an earlier edition of this series of new writing events) and came with a set this time around. A number of cardboard boxes lined the rear of the stage, some marked with the names of significant others in Gemma’s life, and other simply marked ‘Work’ or ‘Social Life’. I wondered whether life was really so easy to compartmentalise; it becomes clear in this absorbing and harrowing play that it is not. Watching someone who just seems to have been dealt a bad hand in life deteriorate further is most unpalatable, but Viechweg’s performance was so convincing that my attention was undivided throughout. The character development is more evident than it was in the play’s previous incarnation, and some genuinely funny moments come as Gemma encounters one piece of bad luck after another. But she’s a trooper, ever trying to do her absolute best, and her actions are often misunderstood.

The performances, taken together, were powerful and persuasive, and to an extent, exhausting to watch, simply because of its sheer ‘reality’. No wonder some people prefer their theatre experiences to include some form of escapism! Each of the plays enjoyed good rapport with the audience – a great achievement, given the uncomfortable topics raised.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Blink. Theatre’s critically acclaimed production Response is back! After sold-out runs at Alyth Synagogue, the Courtyard and The Old Red Lion theatres in 2017, this regular new writing night returns to put the focus on nurturing emerging & under-represented writers and actors.

In this series of selected solo plays, Blink. looks at the theme of Reality. What does reality mean, how do we define it, and what does it look like in the continually changing modern world?

Scarlett Johnson – Producer
Lotte Ruth Johnson – Director

29th / 30th April 2018 – Old Red Lion Theatre


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