New Venture Theatre’s Short Play Festival featured six new 15-20 minute plays by new writers, brought to life by six directors and a cast of 16. Spanning a diverse range of genres, the Festival boasted stories of love, death, fame, sex, acceptance and pathos that made for a rich and engaging tableau of storytelling.
By Amy Onyett
Sorry was a monologue that showed Anne, a gentle but stifled woman, trying to explain why her actions have brought her to the police interrogation room in which she is being held. She makes her confession to the audience, who sit in silent judgement in the place of an invisible police officer, the only indication of their presence a second cup of water on the table. Gradually Anne unpicks her reasoning, her motives, her state of mind and the way she looks at the world and other people, all the while feeling that she is avoiding the question ‘why?’. It is her meandering thoughts and anecdotes that keep the audience guessing as to what it is she is meant to have done, what darkness is lying behind the self confessed people pleaser.
Jenny Alborough brought an innocence and softness to her character that rendered her instantly likeable, recognisable and endearing in her desires to apologise less and take control of her life in the little ways, from ignoring the phone to leaving the door unanswered just to savour the comfort of a lie in. Alborough gave an engaging performance in a role that suited her well and delivered the monologue without a word out of place.
However, the piece’s conclusion wasn’t entirely satisfying. As Anne finally answers ‘why?’ and the audience are waiting to find out ‘what?’, her crime is left undefined. This did extend the intrigue beyond the play’s final line, but lessened the impact of the dichotomy between her amiable, affable personality and her sinister, fatal actions.
By Sarah Charsley
Hannah Sharp and Matt Reynolds are just words away from saying ‘I do’ when a slip of the tongue sends the happiest day of the couple’s life spiralling into a series of chaotic questions about their relationship, their devotion to each other, their reason for marrying and what they want from their wedding. Accidentally but hilariously saying ‘you’ll do’ at the crucial moment, Hannah stops her wedding dead in its tracks. You’ll Do is a funny and brutally honest piece about the reality of one of the happiest days of people’s lives.
There was good chemistry between Chris Gates and Kasha Goodenough, with Gates delivering his vitriolic rants about weddings with comedic levels of hatred, and although in a small role, Deborah Slot brought a lot of humour to the exasperated Vicar who tries to smooth over the turbulent wedding with organ music only to be told that the couple are both atheists.
There are moments of tenderness within the blustering tirades that brought some audible coos from the audience, but most of the time felt dedicated to decrying the wedding’s food, drink, cost, presents, guests, duration and the inevitable, sickly cake. But as the characters take their chance to claim back their wedding day and speak to the audience, their wedding guests, about the kind of wedding they would actually like without the pomp and ceremony, their sentiments threaten to become as sickly as the wedding cake they both despise. You’ll Do was an amusing musing on marriage, smoothly paced by director Jeremy Crow.
By Michelle Donkin
After a traumatic experience, June is tasked with writing an impact statement to read out in court. Impact Statement was the more serious of the first three pieces in the evening of short plays, presenting a heavy premise and two characters with a strained relationship navigating tragic circumstances. Helen (Charly Sommers), June’s daughter, helps and encourages her traumatised mother to write the statement for the judge in the hope that it will influence the sentence of the accused. Nuanced direction by Erica Fletcher had Charly Sommers moving around the periphery of her mother’s anguish as she encouraged her, observing her from a distance, leaning against far walls and hovering over her shoulder as she wrote, and it was only at the play’s conclusion that you realised it was Helen that June had lost. It was as simple as it was effective, with Helen’s presence still tangible even off stage as June stands to face the man who took her only daughter away from her.
Feeling powerless to write a statement that will have any impact on the soulless man who awaits his sentence, June draws on Helen’s creative writing coursework from university, stories that she regrets never having read when Helen was alive. Diane Robinson and Charly Sommers give sensitive, authentic performances of a script that is steeped in emotion. The expectations and absurdity of an impact statement are beautifully overturned by June’s decision not to describe how her daughter’s killer has taken away everything from her, but to read out one of Helen’s stories instead, filling the moment with her words, her presence and her life, denying her killer any attention and any recognition.
Impact Statement was a very moving story of a powerless woman made bold through her daughter’s words, beautifully written by Michelle Donkin.
By Nicholas Richards
David Eaton gave a lively performance as Jack, ‘Mr Saturday Night’, a TV personality who is tired of living a life dictated and sculpted by the tabloids. To grant him a life of normality, his agents bring in Gareth, Jack’s doppelgänger, to take on the heady showbiz lifestyle for him. Inevitably, chaos ensues. Doppelgänger had a premise that is ripe for comedy and it was successfully delivered by the tight cast of four and quick and witty writing by Nicholas Richards. Whether from the agent’s cunning plots, Jack’s ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll exploits or Gareth’s terrible drunken jokes, Doppelgänger was frantic and farcical and the laughs came thick and fast, but the piece as a whole felt as though it needed more space to develop its concept fully. Ending fairly suddenly, the conclusion left a sense that the quickly escalating story was only just beginning, and the 15-20 minute time slot wasn’t enough for the story to fully grow into its promising premise.
By Sam Chittenden
Moving Slowly was one of the most atmospheric pieces of the set. It is 1956, and Amanda reads the shipping forecast for BBC radio, warning of raging storms outside in soft RP tones in a dimly lit studio. Mandy, fidgety and cheeky, grounds and encourages Amanda when the forecast brings back painful recollections of deaths out at sea, deaths the forecast in front of her predicts but she is helpless to prevent.
The story gently rolled along quite like the currents at sea, the monotony of the shipping forecast meditative and metaphorical. Both Sarah Williams and Emma Hutton as Amanda and Mandy respectively gave subtle, captivating performances, both tender and mischievous. Humour came from applying the forms of the shipping forecast to Amanda’s life, discovering truths about her wants, her needs and her worries and dreams about the future. Understated direction by Emmie Spencer and a low-lit, minimalist set gave the story and its characters room to build atmosphere and mood, and altogether created a quiet but powerful story that lingered after its conclusion. Altogether a very atmospheric piece whose simple story gave strength to its characters and Chittenden’s skilful writing.
By Charly Sommers
A leap in the opposite direction in every sense, The Swing offered a glimpse into a couple’s first hilarious, raucous foray into swinging. With Catherine (Sarah Charsley) nervous and dreading the evening with a much older man and Dave (Nicholas Richards) excited about landing an experienced yoga instructor, the plot of The Swing could have easily remained predictable. However, no one got the evening they expected and Dave and Catherine’s sexual fortune was quickly turned upside down in a fast-paced story by Charly Sommers. What followed was an array of hilariously excruciating encounters, from awkward pick up lines and botched massages to spilt Wotsits, extremely loud lovemaking and talk of energy saving light bulbs in attempts to lighten the mood.
With great performances from the whole cast and seamless direction by James Macauley, the piece raced along without a single lull in pace or laughs. Boasting a great premise and a tight script, The Swing was packed full of comedy that had the audience laughing from the very first line, bringing the night to a close on a high.
New Venture Theatre’s Short Play Festival featured some excellent writing and great performances. There was little unity between the pieces themselves, the positive being that the audience were treated to a truly diverse wealth of storytelling talent, but a loose theme may have made the leap between stories easier as there was little time to digest pieces before they moved on. Overall it was a great evening showcasing the work of a multi-talented cast, many of who wrote and starred in various pieces throughout the night, which were brought to life with equal finesse by the production team and a bank of first-time directors.