It’s that time again when the 3rd Year students of Acting at Northampton University launch their Flash Festival. It’s like a mini-Edinburgh fringe, and each of the productions counts as the dissertation towards the students’ degrees. Last year I saw some Flash Festival plays and I was very impressed. This year I’m hoping to see all fifteen on offer: four on Monday, four on Tuesday, three on Wednesday, two on Thursday and two on Friday. I’m already behind with my blogging, so it might be a while before I write about them all – but bear with me! There are three venues for these plays – St Peter’s Church (evocative and they’ve built the stage platform higher so previous poor sightlines are now much improved), Hazelrigg House (many different sized rooms there offering a variety of acting spaces) and the Salvation Army centre on Tower Street.
To open my Flash Festival experience this year, I started with A Sinner Kissed an Angel performed by the Merge Theatre Company. This is the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, for the murder of her lover, David Blakely, in July 1955. She was 28. I remember hearing from my mother, the Late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle, how the atmosphere on that day was very sombre. Everyone was quiet and reflective, and there were many who thought this was an inappropriate death sentence; and to this day, Ruth Ellis is a figure of some intrigue and curiosity.
The play starts with the climax, in a sense – the scene just before she murders Blakely; and then goes back to her early life, tracing the relationships, the friendships and her descent into a lawless and immoral environment where murder would seem like a fair option, given the circumstances. Regularly interrupting the progressing story of Ruth’s life, we have three “Good Housekeeping”/”Dear Marje” type ladies, with their infomercial/magazine columns advising women on how to do the best for their men, and how to cope with darker and darker situations. These scenes make for an entertaining juxtaposition with the general sadness of Ruth’s life.
Olivia Sarah Jayne Noyce takes to the role of Ruth like a duck to water, looking every inch the part and strongly conveying the character’s wilfully coquettish nature. Ruth knows what she wants and she’s going to get it. Miss Noyce is great at showing Ruth’s obstinate, manipulative and demanding characteristics, whilst all the time looking like butter wouldn’t melt. A very good performance. I also really enjoyed watching Jennifer Etherington as her friend Vicki; she has a very authoritative vocal delivery which made me absolutely believe her character, and her diction was also very clear which is an attribute I always value.
Connor McCreedy’s Blakely had a very sinister, threatening style; wheedling his way into Ruth’s affections, infuriatingly self-mocking, and, quite frankly, thoroughly deserving to get murdered. He was also the source of some excellent on-stage fisticuffs – very nicely handled. Jenny Watson was a very likeable and believable Muriel, amusingly stomping through the dance to grab her sister and expressing genuine concern for her safety and wellbeing; and admirably tackling the tougher prospect of playing another of Ruth’s paramours, Desmond. All four actors also shared the roles of the “Good Housekeeping” ladies – and their change of tone and style for those scenes was very crisp and funny – even if at times you had to swallow your laugh because the material was so brutal.
Overall, a very good production that told its story clearly and intelligently, performed with precision and wit. Congratulations all!