This year’s 24:7 Theatre Festival in Manchester was a triumph. Following her reviews of the first few shows last week, Lucia Cox talks us through the rest of them.
Show : Bump
Venue aside (the 3MT felt like the third character at times, with technical hitches), this two hander from Laura-Kate Barrow is an exploration of confessions in front of an unseen god.
Two unreligious people, alone, in a church are looking for solace. They are not alone. They find each other and when they do they confess all and they confess big. Matt (Thomas Caisson) is the ex-army misfit who has come to find peace. Louise (Sarah Keating) is carrying more problems than she can tell.
The script is generally good and the actors do a fine job but it’s the flabby direction that lets the piece down. It’s a shame as this may mean it will be overlooked for any awards. The actors, left to their own devices, are chaotic on stage. Caisson’s mentally unstable Matt is uncomfortable to watch and needs assured hands to pin down his performance, streamlining it. Keating’s Louise is more reserved but her actions, at times, veer into theatricality.
Barrow’s credentials include Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse Young Writing Programme and the play has had the expertise of dramaturg playwright Cathy Crabb. Even with this level of support there is an unbelievable ending. It could be that it suffers from the hour constraint of the festival – an extra 15 minutes might have resolved these rather ‘bumpy’ issues.
Show : The Young
24:7 should be looking to venues like 2022NQ in future years. Already there’s a buzzing festival feel in the place and with The Young it offers the theatrical sensitivity that is missing in the Co-op’s New Century House.
Set in a dystopian ‘now’, Abi Hynes explores issues of youth and youth-obsession. A group of dissidents are in hiding from the authorities after making a pact to stop taking the legally-enforced drug which keeps the population youthful.
There is argument within the group as they try to discover whether they should grow old or go back to the regime. Finally they split as individuals make up their own minds.
A devised piece needs time to develop, to breathe, and the ideas obviously enjoyed by the cast and company are the beginnings of much greater thoughts, I’m sure. There are some superb concepts which are itching to be explored but, generally, the piece suffers from what often defeats devised pieces – underdevelopment and a thin script. There is an unsophisticated, shallow level of discussion on a theme which is zeitgeist.
The cast, on the other hand, are splendid. There is something to be said for an ensemble. The connection between the characters is believable and the cast listen to one another, thanks to director Rachel Fernandez-Arias. Lisa-Marie Hoctor and Emma-Romy Jones are notably delightful in what is a very strong cast.
A show that leaves an audience with many questions about the plot is, in my book, not a success. My Space is a drama – but a drama with all the drama cut out of it. It feels very much like a two-hour play shoe-horned into half that. Instead, we are given the beginnings and endings of a story with no explanation of how we travelled from A to Z. New boy Leroy is striving to fit into his new life in a small town; making friends with the local kids and dealing with an old man’s prejudice are two of the hurdles he has to jump.
It starts well. The dialogue between the youngsters is believable and the performances are very strong from all the cast but there are so many unresolved plot-devices and story arcs that drop off mid-arc that it becomes a frustrating rather than entertaining hour.
The tight writing, brilliant opening and watchable performances are let down by a script cut short. Perhaps better to wait and see if the play gets a second, full length outing.
Show: Night on a Field at Waterloo
Venue: New Century House
Thomas Bloor’s Night on the Field of Waterloo follows the bolshie Nell (Holly Fishman Crook) and awkward Tosh (Louise Bloor) on a night after the fighting has subsided. The two war widows are left with the reality that war is futile and their existence worthless but also with the silver lining that there may be room for opportunists to thrive.
It’s a fine piece of writing from novelist Bloor with some excellent comedy throughout and wonderful character study. Barry Evans does a decent job of directing the cast through the hour-long historical play but there is much to develop. The two widows are worthy of their own in-depth journey but with three more characters this development stutters to a halt on several occasions.
As a two-hander it bounces along nicely and the two actors are extremely talented and capable. But the play loses its focus and becomes rather sluggish due to its constant interruptions.
Other cast members – Lewis Marsh, Eddie Capli and Vivienne Bell – are very fine actors but are wasted in their roles as this is essentially a very funny, sometimes moving two-hander.
Venue: New Century House
This new piece by writer/actor Alice Brockway explores ‘the fact that some people think human life is worth less than a mobile phone’. We’re in very familiar, well-trodden territory here and there is nothing ground-breaking about the subject matter.
Enthusiastic teacher-turned-recluse Tess (Brockway) is mourning the death of her partner and is unable to deal with day-to-day routines. Her long-suffering artist-friend Evie (Lowri Vivian) and her boyfriend Jay (John Mulleady) aim to support her during this difficult time but when she decides to deface the pavement where her boyfriend was murdered it’s Andrew Fillis’s character who finally tranforms Tess and helps with her healing.
The piece has moments of humour and some nice, intimate moments of real heartbreak but what could be an insightful study of the price of a life is instead a heavy-handed melodrama. It’s a shame as the performances are solid and direction, by veteran Fringe-fave, Helen Parry, is perfectly watchable.
Reviews by Lucia Cox
What: 24:7 Theatre Festival, venues across Manchester city centre
More info: www.247theatrefestival.co.uk