Perfect written by Rachael Claye and directed by Danielle McIlven
Motherland written by Naomi Joseph and directed by Rachael Black
It’s Not A Sprint written by Grace Chapman directed by Ellie Simpson
Sweet Fade written by Charlotte Powell and directed by Orlando James
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
This is the final year of the One Festival at The Space where 19 short one-actor, one-act plays are shown five times over the next three weeks. On the basis on Programme B, in which the plays are all written and performed by women, it’s to be hoped that another theatre picks up the festival for next year. There is some impressive work here.
After a rocky start with Perfect, a confused fairy-story involving a dear little elf, the next three plays soar, with the last, Sweet Fade, being the best of the lot. In Sweet Fade Abby is a barber working in a shop in London, and she thinks she’s happy. She certainly enjoys her job, and likes the small talk and the stories of her male customers. She even flirts with a few of them, though she’s after more tips rather than a relationship because she already has a boyfriend. She has tried other jobs in the past but her father encouraged her to get a trade so she went to college to qualify as a barber. Men will always need haircuts, and her job offers her freedom in that she can travel the world and take the tools of her trade with her. But one day a man comes into the shop and challenges her idea of freedom, and Abby’s world seems on the verge of slipping away.
Charlotte Powell is breathtakingly good here; she’s confident, and cheeky, and while her fierce optimism blinds her to her sorrows the audience can still glimpse the disappointment in her eyes. With her patter and her snapping scissors, and one swivelling barber’s chair for company, we are easily convinced by Powell’s performance, and, in a nice touch, Powell even has a pair of scissors tattooed on her forearm.
Powell’s writing is excellent, too, and is full of insights about the barber trade. Who knew that barbers sometimes get men’s hair stuck in their skin like splinters? It’s impossible to remove and until they shed their skin these barbers are vessels for foreign hair. Sweet Fade is hauntingly intimate, and gets under the under the skin in a similar way.
Motherland, written and performed by Naomi Joseph, is equally well-observed. She is on her way to Twickenham with her father and brother to watch England play rugby. Wonderfully animated, Joseph is endearing as Naomi, the daughter of an Indian man and a white English woman. Caught between two cultures she ‘likes poppadoms but buys them from Sainsbury’s.’ Even though the narrative breaks no new ground, Joseph’s performance is so strong that you are with her all the way.
Just as bittersweet is It’s Not a Sprint, which is written and performed by Grace Chapman, and about a woman running her first marathon to celebrate her 30th birthday. She doesn’t only have to worry about the race – and the fear of being overtaken by the pantomime horse is at the back of every runner’s mind – but she also has to worry about seeing her boyfriend waiting for her at the finish line. She thinks he’ll be waiting with a sign, emblazoned with glittery letters spelling out the words ‘Will you marry me?’ It’s a very physical piece of theatre with Chapman running on the spot for most of it as she pounds out the miles. It does lose pace at times, but overall the play is tightly structured, and, like Sweet Fade, intimate.
So three out of four ain’t bad, as they say, and, if the rest of the programmes are as good as this, it’s definitely worth the trip down to the Isle of Dogs to the Space Theatre. With remarkable new writing and stirring performances like this the One Festival will be sorely missed.
Runs in rep until 27 January 2018 | Image: Contributed