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Bristol Old Vic Theatre School International MA Graduating Showcase 2015

showcase Photo: Shutterstock

In a relatively slight student showcase, the international graduates of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School still manage to present quite a few theatrical gems. The musical opening of Home by Sharpe and Phillips builds into a strong example of harmony singing, while the three guitars and ukulele provide a gentle accompaniment.

 The mix of contemporary scenes are well chosen and refreshingly unfamiliar although it’s comedian Jack Whitehall who provides the first monologue, performed by Ahmad Kamal. Adjusted to suit his nationality, the short scene about airline food proves remarkably transatlantic and Kamal’s timing is spot on. In a smart contrast, Kamal switches to Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced and an attempt to rationalise the motivation behind extreme Muslim behaviour. This is a meaty piece of dialogue and Kamal weaves through the text a mixture of assertion and frustration.

It’s certainly a far cry from All This Intimacy, which sees the actor join forces with Vanessa Labrie as Jen for some mute, physical comedy. Labrie is perhaps stronger and more nuanced in her monologue from Mike Bartlett’s Bull. Taking centre stage, Labrie slowly reveals the dark, malicious side to her character, initially disguised behind the modulated Home Counties tones.

Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things, featuring Sarah Sawyer and Callum Alexander, seems a little uncertain at first, as both actors attempt to negotiate their space on stage. Finally a warmth kicks in and the two develop a rapport that helps the storyline come to life. With individual roles, both actors appear more comfortable and indeed the pieces have a bit more light and shade to them.

As a monologue, Unbearable Hotness by Gabriel Davis is an excellent choice for Tyler Read. There is a mixture of urgency and incredulousness in his delivery that makes Davis’s humour leap off the page. Read handles the punchlines well, maintaining clarity through the panic while grounding an essentially comic story with a genuine sense of realism. Love Tyler by Greg Allen is perhaps more of a sketch rather than a scene and as clever as it is, it doesn’t necessarily offer too much of a contrast for either Read or Matthew Dawson.

Dawson’s forte comes earlier, with an exceptional scene from Nick Payne’s Constellations. Teamed with Natalie Papanou as the theoretical physicist Marianne, there is a chemistry between the two from the outset that feeds the intimacy of the scene. Papanou as Marianne is both playful and insistent in her need to explain the mysteries of quantum mechanics, and Dawson’s reactions as Roland are beautifully measured to create a short but utterly engaging piece of theatre. Papanou contrasts this with a tense moment from See Bob Run, where she deftly underpins her scene with a growing frustration, slowly detailing the agony of a tortured relationship before releasing the trigger of the gun.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot provide Tori Walker and Laurence Varda with very contrasting roles as Simon the Zealot and Cunningham, the inquisitive prosecution lawyer. Although Walker takes an authoritative tone, the scene really belongs to Varda as Simon, who treads a fine line between hippy and activist. The crisp dialogue benefits from strong understanding of both characters and Varda’s almost evangelical energy dominates the scene. It is, however, a decent contrast for Walker, from the pushy date of Jane Martin’s Vital Signs. This is an actor with a natural gift for comedy and despite the brevity of the scene, Walker still manages to make an impressive initial impact.

The battle of the sexes is a constant source of inspiration for dramatists and Penelope Skinner’s Eigengrau sees Mark desperate to break Cassie’s steely resolve. The riveting banter between Marc-Antoine Kelertas as Mark and Kara Chamberlain as Cassie has all the intensity and excitement of a Wimbledon final. Kelertas is definitely persuasive here but for Phillip Ridley’s XXIII, he develops a maniacal twist, gleefully imagining a moment as the centre of attention in a car crash. Chamberlain’s mania has a slightly less morbid consequence in her monologue from Bombshells, where the potential terrors of a single life are about to be quelled by marriage to Ted. Despite the easy laughs available here, Chamberlain assiduously captures the barely subdued panic of a woman trapped in a hell of her own making.

Expert’s choice

Bruce Wall, director of London Shakespeare Workout, chooses Natalie Papanou and Matthew Dawson

Showcase information

Venue: Tristan Bates, Covent Garden, London

Date: July 30, 2015

Director: Kim Durham

Students: Ahmad Kamal, Sarah Sawyer, Callum Alexander, Tyler Read, Laurence Varda, Natalie Papanou, Matthew Dawson, Tori Walker, Vanessa Labrie, Marc-Antoine Kelertas, Kara Chamberlain

Running time: 40mins

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