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The One Festival 2014 - Programme D
The Space
25th January 2014

★★★☆☆

Promotional image for the One Festival 2014

Photography supplied by The Space

All good things must come to an end and in the final collection of short plays in this year's One Festival, Programme D heads up the rear with five more monologues. When it comes to a new writing festival, opening with a 30-minute piece that was originally penned in the 19th century and taken to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 for a full run doesn't quite seem fitting. But Olivia Mace's adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story The Yellow Wallpaper is a compelling one-act play, so we'll forgive Amarillo Arts for sneaking this one in.

In contrast with Programme A's comedy The Other Foot, this play takes the issues surrounding mental illness more seriously. An unnamed doctor's wife (Lesley Free) moves into an attic, the accommodation secured by her husband to ensure complete rest. She cannot go visiting, nor be visited, instead she must spend all day and all night in bed, recovering from her nervous breakdown.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, with nothing else to look at, the woman becomes obsessed with the unusual wallpaper in the room, becoming more and more agitated. Towards the start of the play, she comes across as quite measured, retaining a control which seems at odds with her apparent need to be locked up. And that's of course the point, Gilman criticising the popular rest "treatment" of the time.

The use of digital projections to create the intricate wallpaper that the woman obsesses over is clever, with director Janet Palmer varying the contrast and area of the patterns to help the audience relate to the protagonist's view. She also helps establish the passing of time, with the blackouts seeming entirely natural.

Initially draping the set with white sheets gives the impression that the woman has just moved in, but as they remain, it looks increasingly like the woman is trapped in a disused house, locked up and forgotten. The woman speaks fondly of her dear John, which is perhaps a little at odds with some of the interpretations of the original story, but the more time she spends in the attic, the more we are put in mind of Mr Rochester's first wife in Jane Eyre. Immediately understated, Free's descent into actual madness is powerful but perhaps does not go far enough.

Following on from The Yellow Wallpaper is Richard Fitchett's The Probability of Love. It's a more fleeting piece, a disposable comedy, but entertaining whilst it lasts. David (Daniel Collard) explains with mathematical precision the odds of meeting Paris Hilton, with John Fricker's direction helping to establish the light-hearted tone. At times, the self-deprecation elicits a twinge of sympathy, but this is a largely humorous rather than pathos-driven piece with shades of Tim Minchin's If I Didn't Have You in the mix. Collard is endearing, and copes admirably with the sheer volume of figures he has to spew out in order to establish his character's nerdiness.

Keeping the laughs going, Carrie Ellwanger is perfectly cast in Philip Landon's The Mop Demonstration. With a thick American accent and wide grin, she demonstrates the Wonder Mop with gusto and ever-increasing hyperbole, daydreaming about something more fulfilling. The use of lighting to take her out of the unglamorous store and into her reverie working to amplify the whimsy but also the tragedy.

Sargent Major, written and performed by Natasha Sutton-Williams, is clearly critical of someone. The slightly puzzling monologue about salvation, delivered by an uptight army man, doesn't have a clear target in its sights, preferring to carpet-bomb a number of victims. Neither the writer nor director, Richard Hope, establish whether we should be mocking the Americans, military, religious nuts or all three rolled up into one. Despite this lack of clarity, there is nonetheless humour in the overblown delivery.

Finally, Nick Myles' Details is a monologue about a gay salesman (William McGeough) secretly looking for a new fling. It's an explicit piece, the sheer level of well, details, perhaps uncomfortable for some, but they are key to the plot as well as Myles' themes, including exploitation. McGeough delivers a polished performance, a frantic energy running through his words as he painfully tries to explain the truth as to why his last tryst went so horribly wrong. Like Myles' previous work, Rip It to Shreds, there is an unexpected conclusion, and the play works as is, a complete story rather than an excerpt from a longer piece.

Programme D is another eclectic mix of plays, spanning a variety of themes and genres. Arguably, it's not all "new", but that's really being semantics. The quality may vary, yet as with all of the One Festival's programmes, it's a satisfying pick and mix.

The One Festival ran from 22nd January to 2nd February 2014 at the Space. Programme D ran from 25th January to 1st February 2014.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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