There is a definite sense of urgency woven throughout the MA Acting Showcase from Arts Ed. Aside from intermittent sound effects provided by the whole company between scenes and the particularly good choice of duologues, each of the graduates brings a sense of self-confidence to the proceedings that make for good drama. Jared Rogers and Laura-Jean Richardson leap to the fore as hotel guest Charlie and chambermaid Amy in a scene from Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses. Two startled souls thrown together in an embarrassing moment in a hotel room, both performers keenly negotiate the journey from shock to tentative affection with subtlety and conviction.
There is very little subtlety, however, in Is This About Sex by Christian O’Reilly but the racy subject matter is played with innate honesty by Kate Hooper as a pragmatic Kay and Joseph Gale as the rather surly, spoiled Paul. A little jarring at first, the two actors settle into a sound rhythm, with the intimacy of the text mirroring the physicality of their performances. What could have been simply comic is given heart by these two, thoughtful actors. The energy of this scene is then contrasted perfectly by the measured, aching silences of The Night Season by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Evelyn Lockley is sweetly convincing as the slightly star-struck landlady but it is Lucas Livesey as John who gives one of the more poignant performances of the afternoon. Underplayed to perfection, Livesey brings a deep sense of reality to the actor forced to return to work while mourning the loss of his mother. Livesey later shows us a strong and welcome contrast performing as a prissy, perfunctory angel Gabriel to the delightful Jeylan Sanah’s mouthy, mortified Mia as she is told of her quite unexpected immaculate conception.
At the other end of the scale thematically we have Samuel James Morgan as Hollywood actor Tom in Shelagh Stephenson’s Ancient Lights. Morgan’s self-assured Tom is suave, confident and desperate to hide his homosexuality. Charlie Haslam as Kitty has to deal with this revelation and to her credit Haslam balances the piece nicely, generating a genuine sense of character into the role. Certainly one of the most tender scenes in this showcase is played between Caryl Jones and Stephanie Prior as mother and daughter facing up to the crisis of cancer. A fearless and utterly engaging performance from Jones as a pragmatic Myra is nicely complemented by Prior as Jenna, the daughter attempting to face up to a future without her mother.
Steven Bloomer’s You Were After Poetry throws some light on the complexities of obsession within a relationship creating a wonderful vehicle for Stacey Roberts. Roberts is a buoyant, expressive and generous actor. Her acting partner here, Yasen Atour, plays the befuddled boyfriend with precision but establishes hidden strengths as the exchange builds towards confrontation. The roles are reversed somewhat in Smoke by Bryony Lavery where we see Peter Rose’s uber-geek Rod endeavour to cement his tenuous relationship with Jacqueline Kirwan’s articulate, level-headed Donna. Rose maintains a strong sense of reality in Rod so that it doesn’t simple become a comic character and he is obviously enjoying himself immensely.
Confrontation is present from the outset in Joe Penhall’s Some Voices as Conor Boru’s easy, laid-back Ray makes a play for Muireann Bird’s feisty, slightly uptight Laura. Boru exudes a quiet confidence here that not only manages to defrost the icy Laura but also warms him to the audience completely. Moira Buffini’s Gabriel changes the pace slightly with Victoria Maitland as the haughty, sophisticated Jeanne playing host to Samuel Blythe’s genial Von Pfunz. Maitland certainly has the upper hand here with the dialogue, bringing a sensitive energy to lines heavy with want and bitterness but when the power shifts mid-flow, there is electricity in the air. Much the same can be said when Stuart Vincent and Rosie Biggs take centre stage for a scene from Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch. Practically a staple in graduate showcases now, the crisp contemporary dialogue is brought to life beautifully by Vincent as the arrogant Leon but it is Biggs as Becky who controls the tempo and emotional rhythm here, as the couple draw the audience deeper and deeper into their history.
Carla-Marie Metcalfe and Ed Hartland excel in their scene from Vera, Vera, Vera by Hayley Squires. Metcalfe plays Emily’s insecurities to perfection but Hartland in particular really knows how to bring immediacy to a script and coupled with an assured delivery this actor should go far. The Lightening Play by Charlotte Jones sees Kave Niku and Jane Alice play out an emotional game of cat and mouse. Alice exposes the desperate need in Harriet layer by layer with resolute precision whilst Niku’s sensitive and charming Burak calmly lays his cards upon the table. This is a scene wracked with unspoken longing and treading a similar territory are Siu-See Hung and Steve Pell in an episode from Jason Hall’s Third Floor. The pairing of these two performers as dysfunctional neighbours works exceptionally well, but it is not their dreadfully awkward conversation at the doorway that creates the drama so much as the deafening silences between them. Both actors evidently know the value of the pause and they use this knowledge to optimum effect.
Mark Deitch of Benjamin Management chooses Stuart Vincent and Charlie Haslam