Writers: Priscilla Krahn, Nick Maynard, Kai Kenzie Pascal, Chiedza Rwodzi, Nash Colundalur and Michelah Desnai
Directors: Sarah Githugu, Emily Oxley, Rebecca Goh, Rukmini Sircar, Nidhi Krishna and Esalan Gates
Scratch nights – evenings full of short examples of new writing – have been thin on the ground since London’s fringe theatre world started waking up again after its Covid-induced coma. Slowly, they’re coming back, with production company Unshaded Arts presenting an evening dedicated to stories from marginalised voices.
Of the six short plays on display, Priscilla Krahn’s Nucleus is a strong starter, but that’s mostly down to the performance by Lorraine Adeyefa as Tamilore, a force of nature who has dreams of leaving her London home far behind and gaining fame as a musician. Vanessa Owusu, playing Tami’s best friend Araba, is often reduced to playing the straight woman, but her character’s own dreams are constantly fighting against those of her parents. While Krahn’s script veers around a little too much to be effective, the thoughts of betrayal that come with a desire to move beyond the life their first-generation immigrant parents created are strikingly drawn.
That’s followed up by a slight, but enjoyable tale of gay flirtation in Life is Stranger Than Fiction by Nick Maynard, in which the bookish (and possibly neurodivergent) Ralph(Yusuf Naya) is chatted up by Elihu Ngbodi’s gregarious Holden. Some of Maynard’s dialogue tends towards the sort of overwritten prose that can survive on paper, but which, when spoken, feels false and stilted. The chemistry of Ngbodi and Naya helps rescue the piece, though.
Kai Kenzie Pascal’s fire/fight presents another two-hander, as sisters Tash (Mariah Yarjah) and Kel (Jess Pentney) discuss the house fire in which they were both trapped, and the consequences for each of them since. Director Rebecca Goh mirrors Pascal’s writing, laden with metaphor and imagery, with a kinetic quality, pitting the sisters as both wrestling rivals and uneasy friends. The blurring between reality and fantasy leads up to an emotional finale that helps this piece become the standout play of the evening.
Writer Chiedza Rwodzi performs in her own piece, Strangers andRevelations, playing one half of a couple on a first date alongside Jason Yeboa. An initial lightness, in which it seems as if some well-worn observations on dating might receive the merest of variations, gives way to something deeper as each reveals to the other how their lives are touched by unresolved grief. It’s a tantalising glimpse that feels unresolved by the end.
Nash Colundalur’s The Trojan Horse promises a tale set in the time of Partition, during which the city of Lahore was beset by riots. Unfortunately, director Nidhi Krishna elects to seat the play’s two actors, Ravikumar Venkatachalam and Hemant Parekh, at one end of the venue’s thrust staging with their backs to one-third of the audience. This odd choice is compounded by keeping the actors largely static. As dancer Geetha Sridhar joins the stage, she too is kept to a small slice of the stage, further limiting the ability of the piece to throw any light upon this period of history.
Concluding the evening is Michelah Desnai’s Roads S Traveled. In this tale of three young women who together left their home town in the Southern US to share an apartment in New York, Desnai (who also performs alongside Demi Wilson-Smith and Savannah Beckford) constructs a tale in which Beckford’s character, Soul, has begun to regret the move. Desnai’s story feels like a longer piece trimmed down to fit the slot available, but even with those constraints, the characters feel fully formed, and their relationships believable.
It is a satisfying conclusion to an evening of varied levels of largely promising success. And it shows that Unshaded Arts is delivering on its mission to surface new writing talent from voices that aren’t represented enough in fringe theatre.
Reviewed on 11 November 2022