The State Vs. John Hayes
State was my first foray into Festival 45, our inaugural new writing festival at The King’s Head Theatre. As one of their Trainee Resident Directors, I was given the task of blogging about a select number of shows at the Festival, as well as seeing as many as was feasibly possible. I am currently directing and producing my own Christmas show, Victorian & Gay up the road at The Hope Theatre, so I have not been able to see as many as I would have liked, but I was overawed by the high standard on offer at this first festival.
State Vs. John Hayes was a masterclass in holding audience attention. Lucy Roslyn was captivating and such a unique performer. The sparse use of set and tech made sure that all eyes and ears were focused on her throughout the piece, something that never felt laborious or oddly paced at any time. Roslyn also engaged in very little onstage business, but what was done was exact and defined, furthering her character, a psychopath on the verge or eruption at any moment. The direction included wonderful points of audience interaction interspersed throu the piece, the slightest sniff or cough garnering a reaction from Roslyn, and then skilfully interwoven into the monologue. These moments never distracted from the narrative, but reminded us all that what we were watching was very live, and real, theatre. Overall, State was the first, and best, piece of work I saw at this year’s festival, and it was a delight and joy to watch Roslyn work. I look forward to the show’s, hopefully bright and long, future.
Queers is a confessional piece of theatre, that feels verbatim, but constitutes 6 actors giving 6 discrete monologues. All of these scenes, if they could be called that, we're individually staged, and simply set, with heavy use of blackouts to denote the passage of time. The direction was unobtrusive but really served to bring these characters, as portrayed by the actors, to life. As with State, there were choice moments of audience interaction peppering all of the monologues, these were though, in contrast to State, very much part of the narrative and served to invite the audience to challenge and really think about what was happening and what was being said onstage. What I really enjoyed about this play was the complete breakdown of stereotype. So many queer plays that I have seen indulge in an almost ‘laugh-by-numbers’ style, with the same old stereotypes running amok and being wheeled out to garner the same old hackneyed laughs from members of the audience. Queers was thoughtfully funny, without being alienating, and this is what really endeared me to the piece.
The Smallest Story Ever Told
A play about Alzheimer’s where the form so cleverly correlated and complemented the narrative and theme, Smallest Story left me beaming when I left the theatre. The play charts the life of a young woman and mother who is creating a children’s book about what it is like to lose someone to the disease, whilst being afflicted herself. It was touching, laugh-out-loud funny, and populated with a large and strong ensemble. The house was packed when I went to see it and it was so gratifying that Fringe theatre can work when all onstage are paid, and there are huge dividends to reap, as the standard of the production testified. This was, by far, my second favourite piece of the Festival, coming a close second to State.
I love political theatre. Especially theatre with a political agenda that really has you thinking as you leave the auditorium. Swithin Fry, who has been in regular correspondence with and campaigning for Timothy Coleman, who awaits a death sentence in the US, is about as kind a heart as you can meet. In an effort to further and publicise Tim’s cause, he has created this wonderful presentation, based on real conversations with the wrongly accused man. Fry brings all of this political fervour to the performance, and I was left thinking deeply on the saccharine and pointless state of most pieces of theatre, even my own, and wondering how more could be done to give theatre this much needed political dimension. A real turning point, I feel, but we’ll have to wait and see if I can do anything as worthwhile as Fry. But in the meantime, thank you Swithin!
5 Guys Chillin’
As a rule, and I couldn't tell you why, I don't like verbatim theatre. I guess it stretches my definition of theatre to its breaking point. However, I, and clearly the audience, really enjoyed 5 Guys. It was cleverly disguised verbatim, set in a sex party with, surprise surprise, five guys ‘chilling’. The actors were all strong and it was interesting to see this piece in its new form, having been at the King’s Head earlier this year. So much was done in this enclosed and claustrophobic party and there was such a freedom to the onstage movement that I did at times truly believe I was a voyeur watching a sex party during one of its lulls.