In one of the more inventive and absorbing student showcases of the season, the graduating students of East 15’s BA Acting and Contemporary Theatre course write, direct and perform excerpts from plays featured in their 2013 Debut Festival - an initiative dedicated to the staging of new work.
Opening with a monologue is a bold move but this amiable piece, written by and featuring Alessandro Marchese, touches on a familiar immigrant experience to put the audience at ease. Delivered with a sing-song, Italian accent, Americo features Marchese as Alex, recalling the voyage of his great-uncle through history. Marchese has a relaxed stage presence and Jonnie Bayfield’s unobtrusive direction helps bring the colourful characters in the story to life.
Yasmin Zadeh’s Bunco is given two outings in this showcase, with different casts each time. Annabell and Sebastian appear to be perfect hosts but there is a secret that is being kept and a sense of urgency that is difficult to decipher in either showing. Zadeh’s writing, however, rouses curiosity in the observer and Rory Campbell and Jake Flowers heightened direction brings energy and pace to the showcase in general. Adam Colborne lends the verbose Sebastian a sympathetic manner that works well up against the authors own performance as mysterious hostess Annabell. Alexandra Wolfe as Helen and Benjamin Coulter as Adam equal their heightened delivery and add to the drama while the appearance of Catalina Oana Mahai as the reluctant guest Phoebe hints at the mystery behind the piece.
If there are agitated elements in Bunco then they are nothing compared to Shabaneh Razvand’s Daiquiri Jackpot featuring the author as Jess and Georgia Bliss as Ruth. Played with a strong line of comedy, the frantic nature of the scene makes it appear more like a comedy sketch than a dramatic piece. Playing to these strengths, Razvand is spot on as Jess, mindlessly hysterical at the thought of disciplinary action from her boss. Bliss matches Razvand for energy, pace and comic delivery but despite this, the scene is difficult to gauge dramatically.
Written by Olivia Hirst, Play for September focuses on the friendship of two school girls and how the relationship is tested when one of them begins a relationship with their teacher. An interesting approach, in this scene at least, plays down the ethical dilemma of the story to focus on the two girls as they tread the line between child and adulthood. The performances here are exquisitely delivered with Naomi McMorran as Kay and Rianna Dearden as Elle. The two actors work perfectly naturally together, negotiating the playful dialogue effortlessly until the arrival of Jim Crago as the teacher and then the dynamic changes rapidly. Left alone together on stage, Dearden and Crago crank up the awkwardness level dramatically and sparks fly producing one of the highlights of the afternoon.
Written by Agnes Wild, Just Call Me Kate is set in Iceland in the 1940s just as the British have invaded the city. One of the broader set-pieces in this showcase, Wild’s is a distinctly human drama focusing on the character of Selma, who is faced with making romantic choices while dealing with the interference of her family. Utterly engaging, this is a real ensemble piece incorporating interesting, charming characters and featuring actors who develop a genuine rapport with one another. Olivia Hirst as Selma and Will Cowell as Rob establish a tentative romance within a short space of time making the arrival of Benjamin Coulter’s achingly sincere Benni all the more poignant. The love triangle that threatens is dramatically tantalizing and each actor grasps the truth of the text as director Megan Rose Thomas guides them to equally honest performances. Wild’s turn as Julia, Selma’s mildly embarrassing mother, brings a little comic relief and it’s good to see Dearden again, this time in a contrasting role, celebrating her feminine charms as Selma’s preening sister, Kate.
Thomas proves herself a strong writer too with her murder-mystery Who Killed Lauren Swift?, which features an all-too brief appearance by Rory Campell as Jamie. With Thomas playing the mum it must be said that the scene here really belongs to Holly Mallet, who excels as the whining child, Wren. Lightening Bent by Jake Flowers sees Marie Dinculescu as Cora and Joseph Barnes-Phillips as the unlikely named Merlin. Dinculescu captures the essence of Cora, a woman trapped in a brothel and struggling to find escape or at least, peace of mind. Barnes-Phillips seems perfectly suited to play the awkward Merlin, who offers a ray of hope to Cora if the couple can institute a mutual level of trust.
League of St George by Georgia Bliss initially touches on very similar territory to Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Launderette, mixing issues of race and sexuality to create a tense duologue for Dominic Garfield and Oliver Tunstall. Circling each other warily, the two actors capture the spirit of fear and doubt in the erstwhile lovers with Tunstall bristling with angst as the startling skinhead, Adam. Garfield’s is a softer, warmer style although his portrayal of Nilay grows in strength as the scene progresses. Shabaneh Razvand directs the scene sympathetically and while the dialogue may be a little formulaic, there is plenty of room for development in the plot.
Jonnie Bayfield’s Bygone is arguably the most intriguing piece of writing of the afternoon, touching on the lives of Brandy and Tynan, two wildly eccentric hermits living in denial of the outside world. Directed by Will Cowell and a little frantic at first, the piece eventually calms down and gradually we are drawn into this quirky world. Cast in his own piece, Bayfield is a treat as the manic Brandy and the obscure, utterly absorbing characterisation bounces well off Russell Chadwick’s equally oddball, Tynan. While this scene is only short, it paints a fascinating picture of the protagonists’ world and leaves the audience wanting more - surely the intention of every playwright.
Sandpits Avenue is a fusion of live original folk music and contemporary verse written by and starring here Nathalie Wain. Wain’s commitment to the project is evident as the actor exhibits an impassioned delivery of some thoughtful dramatic verse. The natural rhythm of the monologue given here, showcases a strong sense of theatre and the urgency of Wain’s delivery leaves us wanting more of the same. It is worth noting that this piece and League of St George have both been awarded the Stella Wilkie award and will be full staging in a commercial theatre on the London Fringe.
One in Six by Jim Crago packs a great deal into a single scene and dramatically this is perhaps main flaw. The writing has pace but there is so much exposition in a single scene that it loses some of its impact. The protagonists, under Yasmin Zadeh’s astute direction take it in turns playing Russian Roulette with a revolver. While there are no deaths on stage, the aftermath of pulling the trigger is palpable as each of the boys realise that they have attempted suicide. Rory Campbell’s immature, middleclass rant immediately establishes Dom’s character, as does conversely Oliver Tunstall’s telling, fearful silence. Tom Cray is easily the most physical performance here and the energy of his expression and breadth of emotional range make for deeply satisfying theatre.
A second helping of Zadeh’s Bunco allows us to see other actors in the same role, which is a little confusing for the audience although ultimately Cindy-Jane Armbruster and Matthew Wingrave provide us with a slightly more plausible Annabell and Sebastian, not that the narrative becomes any less intriguing, especially upon the arrival of Jake Flowers as Andrew, this time covered in blood. Suddenly we are in Theatre of the Absurd with a body being nudged under the table and further guests to play host to yet another polite couple.
The Acting and Contemporary Theatre course provides a fertile new source of a new breed of performing arts graduate. If singers train to become triple threat performers then East15 are perhaps providing the equivalent for actors producing the actor-director-writer hybrid.
Nick Field, producer Iris Theatre chooses: for acting Rianna Dearden and Naomi McMorran and for writing: Bygone by Jonnie Bayfield