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WoLab’s Actor-Writer Showcase, in partnership with Theatre N16

WoLab's Actor-Writer Showcase
WoLab’s Actor-Writer Showcase

This was not a ‘scratch night’ and was never billed as such. Nonetheless, The Actor-Writer Showcase featured fifteen pieces of theatre – all of which, I hasten to add, were brief with a capital B – comprising ten monologues and five duologues. For those who take an interest in such matters, ‘duologue’ is the correct term here, as in plays with speaking parts for only two actors, whereas ‘dialogue’ refers to two or more speaking parts. If anything, I learnt something new even before the lights went down.

A real mixed bag of plays was seen by an encouraging and sympathetic audience, and there was just one (which shall remain nameless) whose narrative I had serious difficulties following. There was not, as far as I could deduce, any overarching theme, with topics ranging from childhood memories that are retained well into adulthood to the love that in certain circumstances still dare not, in 2018, speak its name. I rather liked ‘May I Take Your Order?’, written and performed by Chloe Wade, a sarcastic and satirical take on the sort of behaviour waiters and waitresses must put up with on a daily basis.

This sort of thing has been seen before – there’s a sketch available online of Rowan Atkinson performing a monologue officially called ‘Guys After The Game’, but (with some justification) on YouTube it is known as ‘Drunk English in Indian Restaurant’. Anyway, I’ve seen most of the incidents Wade describes, including people attempting to order items not only not on the menu, but far beyond what the establishment being dined in would reasonably be expected to have available.

The other stand-out for me was ‘Bossman’, written and performed by Charles Entsie, a conversation with an Uber driver (other private hire cab services are available) that we only hear one side of. The passenger’s mother has begun seeing someone she is now wanting to spend her twilight years with.

But he has habits and behaviours that the passenger cannot abide, and a big frustration appears to be the man’s lack of social media presence, so the passenger is unable to find any further particulars about him. It’s a hoot.

It’s often the case with showcase performances of this nature that some plays are more engaging because the monologue practically necessitates directly addressing the audience. However, such is the strength of the writing with this group that WoLab (short for ‘working laboratory’, as in ‘a working laboratory for artists to create’) have been supporting, that the plays addressed to someone other than the audience have as much impact. When I was an undergraduate, we had to do a little bit of public speaking. It wasn’t really ‘public’ speaking, as we did it in front of our own classmates, but I recall being told that it takes more effort to prepare a five-minute speech than it does to prepare a forty-five minute one. With only five minutes available, words must be chosen very
carefully.

I should imagine it would be broadly similar with regards to playwriting – what to leave in and what to get rid of, and finding inventive ways of advancing a plotline quickly, but without making it sound rushed. So, for instance, in Thanh Le Dang’s ‘Rita Waits’, as the title suggests, a lady who goes by Rita is waiting for someone, while ‘Out On A School Night’ goes as far as portraying Daisy (Holly Rose Hawgood) and Matt (Sonny Poon Tip) brushing their teeth in the morning. I initially thought that was a bizarre way to make use of a precious few minutes of stage time, but it works in providing a naturalistic backdrop to a plausible recollection of past events.

Some plays, perhaps inevitably, ended on a cliff-hanger, and there could well be a future life for some of the works showcased. Both ‘The Procurement Department’ and ‘Nero’ left me wondering what happens afterwards. In the first, a 15-year-old (Chloe Wade) who has declared herself to be eighteen to get around employment legislation, is shown the ropes to a new job by an experienced member of staff (Olu Adaeze), and there are all sorts of increasingly horrifying elements to a tale about preying on the young and vulnerable. The latter involves a crime against the person committed because, as far as I understood it, a childhood memory was so vivid it lingered on well into adulthood and a disproportionate and reckless response took place. But as it happened in broad daylight in a branch of Caffe Nero – hence the play’s title – were there witnesses?

Due to the experimental nature of the event, I dispense with a star rating on this occasion. It is one thing for writers to see their work on stage. It is quite another for writers to bring their work to life on stage themselves. An excellent job done by all, this is a good way to experience raw, fresh, new writing.

By Chris Omaweng

WoLab presents…
The Actor-Writer Showcase,
in partnership with Theatre N16

Following a callout for the next generation of actor-writers, 10 talented artists were picked to participate in WoLab’s inaugural showcase course, in partnership with Theatre N16.

Throughout the summer they have been developing their existing playwriting and performance skills through a series of tailored workshops, which have also including mentoring sessions in producing and marketing, as well as regular visits from established theatre makers within the industry.

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