Thursday, 4 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 2

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Send Amateur Dramatic Society presented The Island by Athol Fugard

After thinking that Athol Fugard was a French surrealist, I looked him up on Wikipedia yesterday to discover that he is a South African political dramatist. Thank heaven I decided to do a little bit of research, or this play would have been very confusing!

A stark opening revealed the stage right area taken up by a barred prison cell and stage left empty, with a projected image of a prison island. Two exhausted, sweat-stained prisoners worked, pointlessly digging sand, until forced roughly back to their cell by unseen hands.

Most of what followed took place in the confines of that cell, barely 8 feet square.

At first the speed of the dialogue, along with the rough South African accent made me think we were in for a tough time when it came to comprehending the dialogue. But I shouldn't have worried. The deliberately frenetic and chaotic opening soon settled down into a thoroughly absorbing and moving piece of theatre.

The story of two ANC activists, jailed for their belief in freedom and equality was originally performed by black actors in the townships of South Africa, but there was absolutely no problem casting two white actors in the roles. The play, the acting and the direction were all "colour-blind", just as they should be.

As the pair prepare to perform Antigone at a prison camp entertainment they point up, with delicious irony, the parallels between the ancient story and their own predicament. And when John finds out that he is to be released within months, his friend Winston veers from joy at his partner's upcoming freedom to anger and jealousy that he will be left behind to rot.

Both actors were very fine indeed, though I have to say that Peter Heath as John was a touch more impressive than his acting partner, Matt Kitsell, playing Winston. I think that the tricky accent sometimes defeated Mr Kitsell and led to a tendency to bite off his sentences at times, though I'm being a bit picky because the characterisations and emotions of both men were superlative.

While in critical mode, it's also a shame that the duo had to take a prompt near the end of the piece as they had been flawless with their dialogue up to that point. Having said that, I got the impression that if they had been left to their own devices for a second or two more they would have found their own way out of the problem.

Overall though this was a very well directed and grippingly acted hour of drama. Just what the festival was made to showcase. If something else comes along to better this production we will be spoiled indeed.

Junk Elephant presented Switch by Chris Masters

A complete contrast to the first play of the evening, this was a very short play. Too short in fact. At 16 minutes it fell below the minimum duration specified by the competition rules and will forfeit at least 8 points because of that. Shame.

More of a revue sketch than a play, this was the story of two spies who are not what they seem meeting on a park bench, exchanging documents and discussing their profession.

The opening was fantastic. Superbly mysterious violin and synthesiser spy music, combined with precise snappy lighting and sharp stylised movements by the Russian spy gave us an instant impression of the location and style of the production.

The acting from the two players (Dan Herrington as the Russian and John Ryan the Englishman) was also fine, though the script was too brief and insufficiently deep and textured to provide any scope for real character development.

Like the adjudicator, Im at a loss to say exactly what the play was about, if it was about anything, which is another reason why this seemed like a sketch, just a nice excuse for some nice gags and jokes (and they were very nice this was definitely the funniest of the 6 plays we have seen so far).

And thats about all I can say about this production. It was very enjoyable and there was nothing that they did wrong (excepting the short run-time), but one was just left with the feeling that with the talent of the actors and director aimed at a longer and more meaningful piece of writing (maybe the same piece extended?) we would have seen a much more satisfying piece of work.

Playmakers presented The Last Post by Jean McConnell

Like the last play yesterday there were some fundamental problems with this play.

This was the story of Felicity, a rich woman whose husband, a Colonel, had died. She receives a letter in the post informing her that he had sired a young boy child who now needed an operation. The childs mother, Mary, appears on the scene and the widow pays her money for the operation on the understanding that she will never come back. But the whole thing is a con-trick. There is no child Mary just scans obituary columns for likely looking death notices and then writes on spec to the now-deceased putative lothario

Now, there were two BIG problems with all this.

First, the play: the reason that we know its a con-trick is that Mary leaves behind her newspaper with an obituary marked. Felicity cleverly figures out the significance (how?!?) and then happily (happily!!!) writes off the money and assumes Mary will be living it up in the tropics (as she indeed is). But if Mary is in the tropics, then she isnt following up her new victim. And if I were Felicity, Id be going to the police, telling them what happened and handing over details of the clue, leading to the capture of the con-woman and the return of my money.

So, the whole ending really made no sense. But more annoying was the turgid dialogue, which was obviously aimed at the elderly matinee crowd who need telling 3 times what has happened. After we suspect that Mary is a con-woman, we have a scene in which she sets up the next con (confirming our suspicions) followed by another scene in which Felicity explains the whole thing AGAIN to her daughter on the phone. Totally superfluous. Especially as she should be phoning the police instead!

Anyway. Those are the big problems with the play. Now the big problems with this production.

Mary ORiley, the con-woman. Now, Im sorry about this, but she must have been 50 years old if she was a day. Pushing 55 if I were to be honest. Which is a terrible piece of casting if this woman is supposed to have a young son! It totally undermined the shaky premise of the whole play.

The production wasnt helped by some rogue seagulls in the sound effects booth which kept squawking when the phone should have been ringing. And squawking and squawking and squawking all through the outdoor scenes Argh!

Add to that some uncertain early lighting queues, an unconvincing Irish accent and a lack of pace in the direction and playing and, well, sorry Playmakers but Im afraid I didnt find much to enjoy in your production.

Oh I tell a lie. Those of us sat in the left-hand side of the auditorium did enjoy playing spot the prompter. Please tell him or her in future that if she can see the audience then they can see her!

More reviews tomorrow of Day Three

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.


D said...

Pete keep up the good work - when do we get past the boring round robin stage and go into the head to head contests ala Champions League. Am hoping to attend next Thursday all being well so perhaps arrange a curry afterwards.

Chris said...

If you were sitting on the right hand side of the auditorium you would also have heard, intermingled with the seagulls, the rustle and scrunch of someone who shall be nameless (but Judy says she's bringing him a polythene bag tonight to put them in) eating crisps. I have to say that with everything taken into account I think I had the best laugh of the Festival so far!