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The Significant Other Festival at The Vaults Theatre – Review

The Significant Other Festival (c) The Pensive Federation
The Significant Other Festival (c) The Pensive Federation

It never takes that long for a group of British people to find themselves talking about the weather, and so it is almost inevitable that this edition of The Significant Other Festival, in which – to summarise – two’s a party but three’s a crowd, should at some point take ‘Conditions’ as an overarching theme.

Despite ten (very short!) plays and an equally short musical having different writers, different actors and (mostly) different directors, there were some links between the plays. Some links were more explicit than others, with the same props coming up time and again, serving different purposes. As for the subtler links, well, that would be giving too much away.

Humid by Anthony Cozens opens proceedings with a bit of a ‘swearathon’, a point I didn’t personally pick up on at the time but it was commented on by fellow audience members in the interval. There are, of course, people who do tend to swear as naturally as they breathe, but here, when all three characters are at it, there’s little to distinguish one from another. Miles (Michael Shon) is at a fairground with his partner Izzy (Olivia Negrean). He is carrying around a goldfish that he won earlier in the day by putting some hoops through some objects. This being a funfair, the fish has been in a bag for an indeterminate period and has now died, presumably through lack of oxygen. The fish’s fate gives Izzy’s friend Hannah (Katherine Jee) the impetus to hurl insults at Miles (yep, more swearing). The ending is open-ended enough to leave a question in my mind about the fish being a metaphor for Miles and Izzy’s relationship unanswered.

Flurry by Olu Alakija was the darkest of the plays, and not just because it was set in a forest in the middle of the night. It is, to be blunt, gradually revealed that of the three characters, played by Leanne May Bennett, Ashleigh Cheadle and Virginia Lee, one shows no remorse or pity whatsoever for the death of a man who “shattered” their own lives, which understandably horrifies the other two. It is not made entirely clear – perhaps it wasn’t considered important – precisely what the deceased man did, or was alleged to have done, but it’s clear that this isn’t a motiveless murder. The play got me thinking about how I would react to discovering if I were complicit in the taking of another person’s life: I might well have ended up being the character in this play that started panicking and needed calming down.

One more thing: I couldn’t help but scribble down a line in this play about the weather. “The wind is howling like an X-Factor contestant.

Inclement by Emma Allison sees Mark Bentham (John Rayment) and his second wife Nina (Rekha John-Cheriyan) meet up with his ex-wife Linda (Pat Garrett). Or, rather, Linda meets up with them, in order to join in with the many arrangements required for Simon and Louisa’s wedding. The bride is Mark’s daughter by Linda. Nina has no patience for Linda’s fretful personality, and the play quickly becomes beautifully dramatic and explosive. The fears and insecurities of both Nina and Linda are palpable, though it is Nina’s forthrightness that ends up putting a substantial dent in Mark’s diplomacy, with almost devastating consequences.

Tornado by Lydia Rynne is set at Simon and Louisa’s wedding, or rather, the reception, though the (presumably) happy couple remain off-stage characters. The best man, Adrian (Nick Pearse) and a bridesmaid, Kyla (Kate Tulloch) are lost in a maze at the reception venue. There is, probably, some imagery going on with being lost without a roadmap and only the weakest of mobile phone signals with which to attempt to contact a friend. It wasn’t altogether clear to me what the ‘tornado’ in Tornado was, except to say that this pair initially seemed too different from one another to commence a relationship, even one that, for reasons unfolded within the narrative, would only last a relatively short time. The ‘significant other’ role, a fired waiter (Roberto Landi) is rather underwritten and plays an ultimately negligible part of the play.

Gust by Alexander Williams begins with Gail (Elizabeth Guterbock) taking her friend Steve (Anthony Cozens) out of doors for a badminton match. The standard of play is inconsequential to the dialogue, particularly when Robin (Kamran Vahabi) appears. Robin has, in Gail’s own words, betrayed her trust, and while Robin and Steve are more than reconciled, Gail remains uncompromisingly unresponsive. The play is an intriguing observation into how certain people who busy themselves trying to ‘help’ are often themselves unable to swallow the sort of medicine they insist others must take in order to get over the past.

Overcast by Rob Greens had me in a combination of laughter and deep thought. Becca (Christi Van Clarke) and Angie (Hanna Lucas) are using a pair of binoculars to spy on people. Not just any people, but people they know. There isn’t much difference between this and looking people up on social media and reading about what they have been up to. Warren (Jamie Coleman) enters the scene after an altercation with an off-stage character (one the ladies are spying on) from which he has both physically and psychologically run away from. The implications and applications of this storyline are vast – it seemed to me to be a reminder not to draw conclusions too hastily from what can be seen at face value without being aware of the bigger picture.

Thaw by Reece Connolly sees another dead goldfish as a narrative driver. Colin (Luke Lampard) and his girlfriend Jenny (Evelyn Lockley) are attempting to bury ‘Gary’, the late fish belonging to Colin’s sister Abbie (Flora Ogilvy). Abbie is distraught at the news, and there’s a hilarious moment in which, in desperation, she attempts to use body heat and friction to warm the frozen ground up. This came across as a coming of age story, and in burying the fish, Abbie is also saying goodbye to an age of innocence and, one would hope, able to go onwards and upwards in life.

Haze by Sylvia Arthur begins provocatively. “I’ve just seen Mother in bed with a fascist,” declares Sidney (Laura McGrady), a statement that becomes all the more strange, and macabre, once it is established what has happened to ‘Mother’. Shelley (Laila Alj), the firstborn of these three siblings, has a long-standing secret that can now be revealed to both Sidney and Sonny (Alex Dowding) now their mother has passed away. Why wasn’t anything being done about a corpse being assaulted though, irrespective of the assailant’s political beliefs? Hazy indeed.

Cold Front by Brian Eley considers what happens when loyalties are tested by the practicalities of life. Squidge (Rachael Oliver) is naturally defensive at the change in living arrangements between herself and long-term friend Becks (Rachel Smart) and relative newcomer Jess (Katherine Rodden). The narrative took a while to really get going. A lot of time in the first half was given over to establishing that this trio get on very well with one another through fun, games and singing, and at first sight I couldn’t see the point of it all. On further reflection, it’s an example, par excellence, of how people prepare for awkward conversations by living in the moment and crossing the bridge of confrontation only when it is reached.

Drought by JFW Nutt starts with an apt question: “Why is it called London Luton?” It is indeed in Bedfordshire and well outside both the Oyster public transport travel zone and the M25 motorway. A stream of silliness is quickly established as Tamsin (Jayne Edwards) and her partner Ben (James Lawrence) try to enjoy an afternoon out with Ben’s older sister Annette (Lydia Smart). Annette speaks her mind, and all of her thoughts spill out, however unsavoury, without any filtering or leaving out of even the most trivial of details – Tamsin later points out that Annette must do better to take her “meds”. It isn’t easy for the likes of Ben, trying to care for family members while trying to live out his own life. A good combination of hilarity and poignancy.

Sunny Spells by Frances Bushe (with music composed by Lemon and Franner Otter) skilfully tells a story through song – there is some spoken dialogue, too, and a suitably big finish allows for the rest of the cast throughout the evening to join in a rousing closing number. The lyrics are witty, even if the narrative isn’t, with characters played by Antonia Bourdillon, Clark Alexander and Sydney Aldridge dealing with what to do with an increasingly frail elderly relative who now requires round-the-clock care (and no, a one-way plane ticket to Switzerland is absolutely not on the cards). If a fuller version of Sunny Spells were of the same quality as this short musical, it would be worthy of a West End run – there’s something about looking to the future and carrying on even when one is frightened of messing things up along the way that places this well-devised show firmly within the canon of musical theatre.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Significant Other Festival
14th to 18th March 2017
View album of photographs from The Significant Other Festival
https://www.thevaults.london/

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