This traditional 16-item, no-frills showcase simply shows each of the 32 students in a duologue after a rather odd devised ensemble opener which adds little and is soon forgotten. The pieces are well chosen and there’s a good range of moods with less emphasis on anger than in many showcases. And there’s plenty of strong talent.
Sarah Sorensen, for example, gives a splendidly controlled and very funny performance as manic Bella, as she awaits the result of her pregnancy test in an extract from The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World with Laura Mckee feeding her the lines and providing dramatic contrast. There’s impressive work too from Aram Armaghanian in part of Zinnie Harris’s How to Hold Your Breath. He lumbers over Euphemia Carter from whose rather needy character he thought he was buying sex rather than starting a relationship with her. Armaghanian is a palpable on-stage listener and every word is delivered with naturalness and intelligence.
An extract from 2nd May 1997 by Jack Thorne is a highlight. Sarah (Alice Rose Parr) has been to a party, got outrageously drunk and taken a man home. The trouble is it’s the wrong man. Alexander Gray as Ian was not the one she thought she was with. The result is a spirited piece of situation comedy with impressive work from Gray as the flummoxed man gradually realising that he isn’t supposed to be where he is. It isn’t easy to play the straight man in a situation like that but Gray is genuinely convincing.
Donncha Kearney and Niamh Branigan, both native Irish, work nicely together in part of Cornerstones by Bairbre Guilfoyle. Although there are audibility problems in the first moment or two it soon settles into successful realism. Branigan, in particular, brings a lovely casual manner to her role and there’s strong chemistry between the two of them.
If you have two fine French actors in your group Christopher Hampton’s version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a good choice. Michele Belgrand-Hodgson is spikily, attractively naughty as the Marquise de Merteuil manipulating Cecile (Claire Tipy), naïve but not for much longer, into continuing to entertain Valmont in her bedroom. Both actors play engagingly off each other to good comic effect.
The chocolate row from Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney has become a showcase favourite but nonetheless Octavia Gilmore and Stephen McCabe bring freshness to the extended quarrel about which sort of chocolate he has bought and why – which is really a surface excuse for the shifting dynamic between them. And Marcus Frewin-Ridley and Madison Maylin bring real warmth to the stress in the lives of two doctors (Tiger Country by Nina Raine).
This is a one-year MA course – although many of the graduates have studied or been involved in some sort of drama before – and it clearly attracts a range of nationalities and ages, which is good to see. The standard achieved in such a short time is very encouraging as this entertaining set of scenes shows. I expect to see more of many of them.
Bruce Wall, of London Shakespeare Workshop, chooses Niamh Branigan and Alexander Gray
Venue: Fortune Theatre, London
Date: September 11, 2015
Director: Aileen Gonsalves
Students: Aram Armaghanian, Lucy Avison, Michele Belgrand-Hodgson, Sam Blake, Niamh Branigan, Euphemia Carter, Madelaine Cunningham, David East, Jimmy Eggleston, Jade Fallon, Marcus Frewin-Ridley, Octavia Gilmore, Alexander Gray, Bethany Greenwood, Mia Hall, Suzanne Heuff, Joshua C Jackson, Donncha Kearney, Elizabeth Lloyd Raynes, Madison Maylin, Stephen McCabe, Jonathan McGarrity, Laura McKee, Holly Page, Alice Rose Parr, Mary Salkeld, Emily Schofield, Sarah Sorensen, Abbie Thomas, Sam Thorpe-Spinks, Claire Tipy
Running time: 1hr
Verdict: Pleasing, well directed showcase of emerging talent