Writers: Mike Carter, David Hendon, John Dixon, Louise Jameson, Alexandra Donnachie
Directors: Saffron Myers, Paula Chitty, Danielle McIlven, Louise Jameson, Lou Mason
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The television anthology series has been enjoying something of a renaissance thanks to critically acclaimed shows like Black Mirror and Inside No 9, but often the closest theatre can get to an anthology series is a rep season. But for those who want a single night of variety, The Space has the answer with the final return of its One Festival contained four curated evenings or ‘programmes’ each containing five short plays performed by one actor.
Programme C which runs until the 23 January is almost everything you could want from an eclectic night of new writing and has been carefully put together to ensure a mix of styles, locations and approaches, while for 10, 20 or 30 minutes the audience is drawn into a completely different world. The very best anthology shows succeed because in the space of a few minutes they instantly plunge the viewer into a credible scenario with strong characters who peak your interest from the start, and Programme C on the whole does exactly the same.
It starts on a confident and unexpected note with Mike Carter’s Mansplaining: The Musical set in the Broadway dressing room of dancer Ginger who has 10 minutes to prepare for her leading role, but is given some devastating news just before curtain-up. It’s hugely daring to write a one-scene musical, but Carter manages it admirably, capturing the tone and style of the 1930s song and dance show, while taking the leading lady – played with verve and charm by Stephanie Ware – on an engaging emotional journey whether she’s singing to her toes or insisting that no man will ever determine her future. Carter’s piece feels like a teaser-trailer for a much more expansive musical in the future.
Equally full of potential for a longer piece is Serena Haywood’s Skyclad which takes a comic look at modern witchcraft. At a university fresher’s fair, Fuchsia is surrounded by posh students encouraging her to join the hockey club, but instead she’s drawn to witchcraft, and in order win the object of her affection, the hunk from the rugby club, she agrees to meet her fellow witches in the wood to cast a love spell. Haywood’s story has lots of potential avenues for further explanation with implicit references to the ‘Mean Girls’ who may have tricked the protagonist and the difficulty of being an outsider in a conformist setting. Alexandra Donnachie wrings plenty of humour from her role who, on the one hand, seems rather too innocent and credulous while having a slightly darker side that would certainly be worth exploring in a multi-scene format.
The evening’s most horrific story comes with an almighty emotional punch that carefully sidesteps the sentimental as David Hendon explores the effect of a shock tragedy on a single mother in Home Time. Waiting for her 7-year-old son to return, the mother, played with affecting depth by Elizabeth George, begins to relay the story of her life and how she came to be a parent. Hendon slowly builds the story, first by mining the frustrations of parenthood and the backstory of this little family before walking the audience through the immediate and galling aftermath of the tragedy. George is perhaps a little too calm as she narrates the effect of those moments, but the overall effect of this little play is a powerful one.
The final two contributions have perhaps less dramatic impact than their companion pieces but are nicely conceived short tales that add tone and humour to the evening. John Dixon’s darkly comic monologue Binkie and the Snowbirds is set in the deep south with a leading man who tells his invisible companion the story of his stuffed dog, some new neighbours and the alligator swamp. Much of the comedy comes from Tim Blackwell’s exuberantly camp delivery that adds a sinister edge to a surreal story, and his slightly predatory flirtation with the listener has a touch of Blanche DuBois to it that in a strong character piece.
Finally, Louise Jameson’s brief tale Sixth Position takes the audience to the ballet where a sweet and engaging young dancer, played by Holly Jackson, reveals the constant pressure and endless disappoints of professional ballerinas. In just 10 minutes, we learn about the tough conditions, the endless criticism and fierce competition for roles, and Jackson shows the toll this takes on the women who never know why they’re not good enough.
The One Festival is a fairly unique experience that takes the audience into five completed different scenarios. They may vary in tone, length and content but in just two hours it successfully draws the audience into multiple and convincingly created lives. The anthology series may be a TV favourite, but this festival shows it can also work in the theatre, and expect to see fuller versions of some of these mini-plays sometime soon.
Runs until: 23 January 2018 | Image: Contributed