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Review of Untold Stories by Untold Arts

Julie Cheung-Inhin as Cassandra and Jamie Giles as Freddie
Julie Cheung-Inhin as Cassandra and Jamie Giles as Freddie – Credit Laura Henry Photography

It’s a bit odd seeing a scratch night of shows that includes two short plays that have already been developed into full-length productions, one of them I accepted an invitation to review last year, and the other on nationwide tour at the time of writing. But it goes to show that with this third edition of Untold Stories, put together by Untold Arts, and introduced by their producer Mark Lindow, that there can be life for a play after it has been performed at a scratch night (along with at least half a dozen other ones) to an audience heavy with ever-supportive friends and family.

Fruitcake by Jonathan Skinner sees a paralegal executive, Victoria (Cheska Hill-Wood) immediately breaching the fourth wall, as it is assumed the audience is here for a business-related seminar of some description. But this backdrop is quite irrelevant as the narrative swiftly becomes a very personal account of a fling she had with Daniel, her superior. Daniel’s wife, Sally, is not stupid, and doesn’t need everything spelled out for her, working out for herself what’s going on. Hill-Wood as Victoria has a very engaging manner, and as ever with monologues from a single perspective, it would have been good if the audience had heard from Daniel and/or Sally for their (presumably alternative) take on, ahem, events. The references to The Great British Bake Off were almost relentless, and the final line threw me slightly. “You’re heard the evidence, you may now retire to consider your verdict.” I wasn’t aware of the assumption that the audience was a jury sat in court.

I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce by Jingan Young sees Freddie Reynolds (Jamie Giles) interviewing Cassandra Wu (Julie Cheung-Inhin). Or is it Cassandra interviewing Freddie? The play suggests foreign direct investment, particularly from China, is a key factor in the British property market, influencing the ever-rising and increasingly unaffordable prices far more than any political party, government policy or whether or not the United Kingdom leaves or remains in the European Union. This is further reflected in a follow-up scene, involving Fraser (Giles) and Charmaine (Cheung-Inhin), a young ex-couple who meet up again as Fraser happens to be passing through Charmaine’s area. “We can’t afford to live in our city,” Charmaine either declares or moans (I think the former), though she (and the play) are at a loss as to what can be done about that, if anything.

American Nightmare by Hassan Abdulrazzak came across to me as being set in a future generation, where the tables have turned and the good old United States finds itself on the backburner on the international stage. Sheik Nabil (Khalid Laith) recalls the father of Senator Ryan O’Reilly (Keir Carroll) calling his fellow countrymen “primitive”, amongst other derogatory terms, but now the Sheik and his colleagues have developed a piece of innovative technology that can help resolve a looming environmental catastrophe in the States, brought about by climate change. The Americans want it. But the Sheik won’t sign off the paperwork without first carrying out due diligence. What that due diligence is not what Ryan was expecting. At all. More fool him.

Hilda, written by and starring Carrie Cohen, is, depending on your disposition, one of those loveable pillars of the community who can be relied on whenever something needs sorting or somebody needs a listening ear. Otherwise, she’s a highly irritating town gossip who, frankly, should just go away. I wasn’t entirely sure where this play was going, as it rambles a lot with lots of description about who said what to whom. To be fair, she holds back from revealing absolutely everything she knows, saying some things are “a little too personal”. All the same, there’s some very amusing and witty observational comedy from a character that is plainly one of life’s great observers.

Octopus by Afsaneh Gray imagines life after a ‘hard Brexit’, in which anyone (irrespective of whether they are from a European Union member state) not considered ‘British’ according to set down criteria must undergo an interview with the Home Office to determine whether they do indeed have sufficient grounds to stay in the United Kingdom. Sarah (Samara MacLaren) chats away while Sara (Alexandra D’Sa) pays little attention until she is forced to respond to the incessant presumptions made by Sarah. It wasn’t offensive, but it was boring, listening to prejudiced remarks, and it is only when Scheherazade (Dilek Rose) joins the pair that the play perks up with some cutting remarks about the absurdity of the situation.

Carousel by Tom Collinson comes across from one of those plays from a bygone generation, or at least set in one. That doesn’t stop it from being innovative and clever. A disease is permeating modern society, and a local doctor (Chris Adlington) is determined to discover what’s going on. Symptoms include anxiety and depression, coupled with whining fatalism. The doctor lists scientific terms at a breakneck pace quite impressively, before concluding that existing medications are ineffective. He has, at least, established a cause, based on weeks of observing behaviour at the Wood Green branch of supermarket chain Morrisons. It’s as laughable as it sounds, but the play is an attack on mainstream media, having identified a direct correlation between the consumption of the content of newspapers and magazines with a negative mental attitude. Some, the doctor further observed, went to the checkout “to buy more cancer”, that is, purchase cigarettes. A highly thought-provoking play, even if I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Adlington, dressed in character in winter clothes on such a balmy June evening.

The Fox by Suzy Gill is a compelling monologue that comes across as a stream of consciousness, or at least someone who has so many thoughts and is trying to speak them all out unscripted, quite a difficult thing (I should imagine) to achieve. It begins with frivolity but gets increasingly darker. Rebecca (Evie Killip), still at school (the uniform being a giveaway), describes her relationship with her mother, which changes suddenly due to a critical incident. All of a sudden the carer must be cared for. But sometimes it takes a life-changing event to make people sit back and take stock, and there can never be enough reminders to retain a sense of perspective when it comes to what’s important in life.

A River Seen from a Hill by Mark Lindow, presumably named after the famed Turner painting, is one of those dark comedies with a tinge of absurdity. Jonathan Hansler and Clive Greenwood play characters known only as #1 and #2, who must deal with the fall-out from a prolonged drought. A lot of ivory tower blue sky thinking and brainstorming goes on, and while the narrative seems far-fetched, the company’s proposed response to the play’s events is quite feasible. Alarmingly so, in fact. 

A very broad evening (if an eight-show week can be exhausting, try an eight-show night in hot and sticky weather) but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng


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