New writing always excites me and one of my favourite theatrical nights is when I am invited to see some new work which is either complete or being tested out. So, you can imagine I was happy to head back to the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham to see the latest such night, Spiral presented by Free Rayne Artists.
The evening started with Baby Girl Productions written by Colette Lewis and directed by Leanne Pettit. In a London office, a mother, Joe (Philippa Robson) is waiting nervously with her daughter Izzy (Stephanie Manton). They are there for Izzy’s audition in front of music svengali Nathan (Malcolm Jeffries) after Izzy was spotted in a talent competition in her home town of Hull. While Izzy is the talent – possibly as we never get to hear her sing – Nathan is more interested in her mother – a real Mamma Rose type if there is one – and raising her hopes as to what Nathan can do for her daughter. An interesting piece this and when I talked to a friend of mine in the music industry afterwards, he confirmed that the scenario as played out wasn’t that unlikely. The writing was nice and believable, though, considering the plan at the bottom of the plot, I think Nathan would have been that little bit smoother as a character perhaps taking some phone calls from other music movers and shakers interrupting his discussion with Joe and Izzy.
Next up was Thomas Kinney’s Less Than Three directed by Kevin Russell. This charming piece revolved around the idea of a dating agency re-examining its recommendation to one of his clients. So, we have Dr June (Bethany Springall) meeting with agency client George (Mathias Swann) and informing him that despite the good relationship he was currently in, there was someone better for him on the agency’s books. I don’t know why but Less Than Three really resonated with me and I loved the whole idea of taking the ‘grass is always greener’ and extrapolating it into relationships in this very cold-hearted but funny way. Both actors were really good and Mathias’ perplexed and possibly too easily convinced George was really effective, especially when matched with the ‘Spock-like’ logic of Bethany’s Dr June.
Walk On by Jack Stacey, Directed by Richard Elson was next up and used the formula of seeing a relationship from its end run backwards to its beginning. What was different was that the first and last scene were exactly the same but completely different in meaning thanks to the acting and vocal manipulation of the words. So we had Alice (Rachael Verkuil) and Ben Teddy Robson), two young people who had got together thanks to the work of Alice’s friend (Leanne Pettit), seeing their relationship go from bad to good as we went backwards in the narrative. I have to say that whilst I did like both Alice and Ben as characters, I didn’t warm to Alice’s friend who, to my mind, came across as a bit too sarcastic and nasty towards Alice. Overall, though Walk On was a nice piece with an unusual take on a standard storytelling format.
The final piece before the interval was Tony Hickson’s Children of the Cleaved Forest directed by Olivia Rose. This quite intense tale tells the story of a gang of young girls ruled by their leader Davina (Angeline Hunt) a foster child with a chip on her shoulder about life itself. In order to join the gang, Ozzy (Rosie Akerman) and Jojo (Milly Dunk) have to pass Davina’s tests of loyalty. Unfortunately, violence seems to be her only thrill and when she comes into contact with severely disabled Freddie (Stephanie Manton) things take a real turn for the worse. So, Children of the Cleaved Forest was not a nice play to sit and watch. The performances were all excellent and the writing very good although I think that the characters of Ozzy and Jojo could have done with being drawn out a little more. Davina on the other had was a fully rounded character. In fact, by the end, I sat there thinking about Davina and speculating that maybe she wasn’t entirely to blame for her actions and her behaviour. Now that’s good writing. I also want to mention Stephanie’s portrayal of Freddie which was extremely good and slightly heartbreaking to witness.
After the interval, we were back with another hard-hitting play in the form of Refuge by BJ Edwards, directed by Luke Oldfield. The story took place in a hotel where a man (Omar Khan) and a woman (Stephanie Pezolano) were hiding in a cleaners’ cupboard from an unidentified person or persons that had broken into the hotel and were shooting people at random. Powerful stuff and the way the characters developed from complete strangers forced together by circumstance into a couple supporting and relying on each other to get through their ordeal was both well written and very well acted by the cast. Plays like this often leave me wondering how I would react in that situation and if I would be like the characters I saw portrayed. I’m still not sure about myself but had little doubt in believing the reality of the two locked in that cupboard on the stage.
The penultimate show of the evening was Frances Bushe’s Very Special Murderers directed by Christiana Ebohon-Green. I have to say that this was my favourite piece of the night and one that I think could be expanded into a longer show. The story concerns Mary (Rachel Fenwick) who is an ex-girlfriend of Sean (Jack Cronin). Rachel was with Sean back in the days when he was called Paul, before being sent down for murder and then leaving prison to go into the Government’s protection programme. Since getting out, Paul has become Sean and is now married to Dawn (Rebecca Simpson). Rachel though has become obsessed with Paul/Sean and feels that after all these years of her waiting and searching for him, he should fall into her arms and be hers forever. So, if you overlook the fact that the protection programme has broken down in Sean’s case, this is a powerful piece of writing looking at what it means to be in prison. Rachel’s character was stuck in her home town being abused by the locals because of her relationship with Paul who, by the sounds of it, spent a couple of uneventful years at Her Majesty’s pleasure being sent out to a government funded brand new life. And what of Dawn, a woman now trapped in a marriage to a man she doesn’t actually know anything about. A fascinating story for all three.
Finally then it was Fairy Wings by Alice Etches and Anna Goodman, directed by Georgina Thomas. In a fairly standard London coffee house, two young ladies, Agnes (Anna Goodman) and Naomi (Alice Etches) are recounting their day. One is dressed as a sort of fairy and is recounting the horror of being a children’s entertainer – got to say I loved this idea as this would be last ever career choice – and her escape from the child’s party from hell by climbing out of the toilet window. The other is sitting trying to work on a laptop whilst also trying some mild flirting with the waiter – Joe (Benjamin Shogbolu). Eventually, after having consumed a muffin and a slice, the girls realise that neither of them has any money and attempt to get out of paying their bill. Got to say, Fairy Wings didn’t really do it for me. Although there was a lot of good humour in the writing, I found the characters extremely annoying and would personally have paid their bill just to get them out of the coffee shop. I also felt a bit sorry for the character of Joe who didn’t really have much to do except play with his phone. This did feel a bit like a work in progress but having said that, there was some nice writing and the fact the girls annoyed me so much was testament to the narrative and the acting so well done there.
And that was it. Spiral was over and once again I walked out into the Clapham night feeling glad that once more I had been given the opportunity to see some great new writing, directing and acting proving that theatre is alive and well once more.
Review by Terry Eastham