views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Shooting Star
15th October 2012


Back Here! Theatre's series of eight short plays and monologues were, to be honest, held in a venue that did them no favours. An oddly-shaped function room in a Fuller's pub had the audience almost literally sitting in the performers' laps. But if this impacted upon the enjoyment of the theatregoers, you really couldn't tell. They had a whale of a time.

There was no real connecting theme to the pieces, other than love and death (but given that they are the basis of pretty much all art, it's not surprising). Instead, the link was that, as the name suggests, they were new pieces. With some more so than others, this was evident, but again didn't seem to matter - there was a welcome rawness and surprising lack of cynicism that kept spirits high, in no small part thanks to producers Craig Henry and Helena Doughty.

Kicking off with Rianna Dearden's Clock Tocking, a slightly wild-eyed but endearing Anya O'Sullivan gave us an impassioned rant about the impersonality of the tube system. Her foul mouth and increasingly screeching frustration was at odds with her outward appearance to satisfying effect and the laughs were a good indication of where the evening was going. The subject matter, though, did make me wonder if it would play in Peoria or whether there was too much made of, as the Irish star pointed out, 'the English way'. It certainly hit the target here, though.

Then came a very heartfelt and incredibly relatable two-hander - He(art) by Andrew Maddock. Exploring the apparent inequalities and character clashes in an otherwise loving relationship, Doughty and Michael Butcher brought the characters to life. In a previous production Olympic Love, Doughty showed a real eye, talent and affection for playing peculiar characters and it's no different here as the intellectual, snobbish Alice. Butcher is just as adept in finding the humanity in her art-illiterate boyfriend with a heart defect. It has humanity in spades. Although one exchange left me baffled - at one point, the characters seem to confuse The Elephant Man with Rocky Balboa, which, if intentional, was just confusing. A small point, sure, but one that niggled the film fan in me.

Liam Mansfield's Death, Disillusion and a Tramp felt more like a stand-up comedy routine than a monologue. But if Clock Tocking was Michael McIntyre observational stuff, this was an anecdotal shaggy dog tale as performed by Lee Evans. Mansfield seemed one loud noise away from a full nervous breakdown, with uncomfortable laughter punctuating his 'set'. This was perfect delivery for a story which saw the character enter a spiral of despair after his grandmother's death and bare his soul to a tramp. A couple of fluffs (if they weren't intentional) just added to the frenetic nature, ramping up the laughs.

Things were more subdued for Road's End by Daisy Jo Lucas, which saw two very lonely women have a touching heart-to-heart. Laughs were much fewer here, save a few bitter, acid-tongued asides by Linda Large, playing an unhappy happily married art authority. She finds companionship in fan and troubled new mother (Henrikka Kempi), ending the subtle, melancholy short on a slightly lighter note.

Craig Henry's Grinding initially seemed like a funny, if crass, scene from Steven Moffat's sitcom Coupling. On the surface, it was simply about the aloof and businesslike Annie (Emma Jane Clarke) meeting Mick (nicely drawn by Harry Anton, with a wonderful line in insecurity) for casual sex. It doesn't quite go to plan as the couple fail to connect on any level. Unbeknownst to us, the scene straddled the interval and what I expected to be a throwaway punchline in an attempt to get us back to our seats transformed into the second half of the play. And I'm incredibly glad it did, as the revelation and conclusion lent a considerable amount of weight to what had gone before, delivering an affecting and effective conclusion. Henry cleverly wrong-footed the audience and, in retrospect, packed the first half with knowing lines that bear a second viewing.

A very brief monologue from Bethan Cullinane, In The Mud, said a lot without many words. A woman working the fields during World War Two, all jolly hockey sticks, reminisced about her childhood and her dead soldier brother. Intense and fleeting, it provided a great prologue for the following He Is Heavy, as well as being a neat, tight monologue in its own right.

Rather than a sister coping with the death of her brother, the penultimate piece by Bobby Hirston had two northern brothers coping with the death of their father. Phil (Bobby Hirston) and Dave (Sam Connelly). Running the full gamut of emotions, from blame to jealousy, anger to acceptance, the pair are incredibly believable and have a natural rapport. Hirston's script has turns of phrase that ring true and here the proximity to the audience serves to heighten the claustrophobia and ramp up the tension. Their brotherly love does have lighter moments, though, and we are welcome when they come.

Finally, we were treated to the first UK staging of In Our Profession by Tennessee Williams. Creator of some of the strongest, most interesting female roles in theatre history, they are nevertheless flawed. Their narcissism and wounds are often portrayed and played to evoke discomfort - certainly in the case of Streetcar's Blanche DuBois - or deeply sympathetic as with Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Here, it's very different with Andy Apollo, Joshua O'Connor and Bethan Cullinane playing the plight of flighty, desperate actress Annabelle very much for laughs. The short sketch sees her attach herself firstly to Richard (O'Connor) who she has known for just 48 hours. Panicking, he calls on his friend Paul (Apollo) to save him and, unsurprisingly, she latches onto him as quickly. Cullinane does an about-turn from her very British In The Mud character to portray the southern belle, and wrings every last titter from the situation. She's just as damaged as any of Williams' women and as such, the melodrama could have been overpowering but thankfully she provides humour while giving slivers of a distraught soul. Apollo's nervous, nerdy Paul is like a more serious Rick Moranis, the opposite of calm, down-to-earth Richard who assuredly delivers the knockout punchline. In all, a cracking end to a very entertaining night.

Despite the various writers, this wasn't a hotchpotch of conflicting styles and themes. The pieces picked worked in unison and, if this is the first of many nights with the admirable intention of giving new voices a stage, I will definitely be back.

Unseasoned was staged on 15th October and 23rd October 2012.

Nearest tube station: Liverpool Street (Hammersmith & City, Circle, Metropolitan, Central)

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