Six Foot Sally Theatre presented 31 Days by Craig James Morgan
A stark and scary two-hander concerning warped ideas about love. Fay (Esther Harrison) has drugged and imprisoned Jason (Craig James Morgan) for the past 31 days because she believes that he will come to love her.
While the play itself does have some issues of character development, being a snapshot in the life of a seriously deranged woman, I found the playing and direction of the piece totally gripping. We really wanted to know what was going to happen to this man and woman.
Miss Harrison's depiction of a woman with many mental issues was totally convincing and was. for me, one of the highlights of the festival.
Mr Morgan, co-starring in his own play, was ever-so slightly less convincing. I did wonder whether someone in his position would be totally cowed and begging to be released, rather than angry - that emotion would have drained away earlier, I feel.
The lighting was starkly effective and well done - especially the UV light used to illuminate the blackboard with its scrawled messages of love; however, some technical glitches near the end (with both badly-positioned light cues and issues with two or three sound cues) brought the production to a juddering halt, such that the build-up of tension was lost and the end, when it came, seemed unsure.
Nevertheless, a great attempt at a psychological thriller which I enjoyed hugely and would love to see again with the glitches ironed out.
Horsell ADS presented The Donahue Sisters by Geraldine Aron
Opening on a nicely presented attic set, complete with cobwebs and clutter, this is a play for three women who play Irish sisters meeting up for a rare catch-up and to reminisce about a cataclysmic event from their childhood.
The accents of Dunya (Caroline Christie) and Rosie (Sara Winthrop-Robbie) were very good, but that of Annie (Cath Cheney) was unconvincing, which was a slight problem for me throughout the play - especially as she was the one who had never left her native land.
However, the interaction of the three women was spot on, both in the 'present day' and during the flashback sequence when they regressed to being young girls, playing int he attic. All six characterisations were spot on and I had no trouble believing that they were really sisters - accents notwithstanding.
As the story wore on and became more oppressive and sinister we witnessed one of the best coups de theatre seen during the Festival, as a porcelain doll was viciously smashed over a wooden chair. I won't spoil the story by telling you why this happened, but it made for a great effect.
Only a couple of small niggles for me. I did wonder whether some of the sisters' complaints (especially Rosie's stories of being bullied by her children) were played for laughs too much. The 'trapdoor' down from the loft was also cheated slightly which was distracting in some parts of the auditorium - maybe it would be better if the team built a standalone piece of set to achieve the effect in a more believable way.
Overall though, this was an excellent production, with twists that were genuinely shocking for someone who didn't know the play.
[One sideline question though. I've now seen excellent Festival plays from Horsell ADS and Pyrford Little Theatre, yet their recent full-length offerings at this theatre have been, well, disappointing, to be frank. Why is this? These groups need to take the lessons learned at the festival and apply them to their money-making productions!]
Sawbridgeworth Players presented A Different Way To Die by Lynn Brittney
This is a story set in Israel, in around 1950, concerning a Holocaust survivor, Anna Gruber, who is applying for residency in the new state. Officious Dr Feldman has to ensure that she is who she says she is.
Our adjudicator found a lot to like in this play, though I'm afraid the production left me behind very early on. There were hints that Anna had something to hide, but I found her constant movement and portrayal of nervousness very wearing and distracting. If someone really had something to hide, they would surely do the utmost to hide their nervousness to avoid raising suspicions? This worry is something that needed to be brought out slowly and more subtly, I think.
That said, actress Corinna Cranch came into her own in the 2nd half of the piece when revealing her secret. While the whole performance was somewhat single-paced at a high pitch, that pace suited the closing stages of the play.
Clive Broom as Dr Feldman was, unfortunately, just too laid back and slow in pace, even in contrast to Anna. For me, his couple of stumbles on words put me on edge for more occurrences throughout the play.
The set was cleverly designed with fabric walls to allow for them to be backlit for some critical revelations near the end of the piece. However, the surreal lighting at that time was at odds with the naturalistic style up to that point and was rather jarring and confusing. I was also most distracted by the walls wobbling and waving whenever anyone used the door!
The final appearance by Anna's husband (Richard Fountain) was spoiled - his words were completely drowned by the swelling music which was building for the finale, so I've got no idea what he said to his newly re-discovered wife.
I'm sure this is a good play but it needs to be handled with a variation of pace and more control and conviction from the two leads. A good attempt.
More reviews for you on Friday.
I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.