Review – Something Human, Incubus Theatre, Flash Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year Acting Students, St Peter’s Church, Northampton, 25th April 2018

Something HumanMens sana in corpore sano, said Juvenal (apparently). The best you can hope for as a human being is to have a healthy mind in a healthy body; one’s not that much good without the other. Incubus Theatre’s Something Human introduces us to four people whose lives are interwoven by an office – a manager, a personal assistant, a cleaner and a woman who lives nearby whose daughter has gone missing. But something’s not right. The cleaner is playing too significant a role in the company for her status. When the mother comes to distribute leaflets about the missing girl, it’s to the cleaner that she asks permission – which isn’t granted, and with very bad grace. When the PA finds she’s been seconded to work alongside the manager, it’s to the cleaner that she asks not to be given that role. (Why are you asking me, I’m only the cleaner comes the undeniably fair response). Meanwhile, on the phone at home, the cleaner makes aggressive assignations with random men; whilst the manager is exposed as a sexually predatory domination fetishist, the PA (female) is a paedophile, and the mother has murdered her daughter. In an evening’s entertainment that goes too far, the manager slaughters the PA; after all that, the cleaner is charged with the murder of three men. Something Human is the title – but there’s not much in the way of mens sana or corpore sano going on here.

Jason PileBut that’s the intriguing web of deceit that this play sets up. The final scene shows the cleaner talking through Munchausen Syndrome with a psychologist. This is a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. But what are the actual repercussions of that fact on the case? One thing’s for sure; the cleaner is mentally unstable. My own interpretation is that the mother, the manager and the PA are all real people, who wander in and out of the cleaner’s life at the office, Anya Gallagherbut that a) they don’t have the mental illnesses or sexual perversions that the cleaner has attributed to them and that b) nor are they dead. Or murderers. I could be wrong here. All’s not as it seems at any rate. And it’s enormous fun to pick up the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot and try to place them in a pattern that makes sense! If you’ve seen it, do you agree with my interpretation?

Emilia OwenThere are some very good performances caught up in the machinations of this play! Jason Pile plays the manager with just the right touch of sleazy middle-management arrogance, on the sneaky lookout for a bit of skirt. He identifies all the areas of the text where he can create just a bit of humour to help fill out his character and you warm to him, even if his character is largely loathsome! A perfect foil for this character is Anya Gallagher’s PA, anxiously expecting a tough interview, tentatively finding her feet in the new role, working out how and when she can start to assert herself in the job. I love her range of facial expressions, Lori Heatheryou know full well when she’s genuinely interested and when she’s humouring those around her. There was one extremely funny and beautifully played scene between all four actors when the manager and the PA are texting each other during a meeting and the other staff are all too polite to mention it. And there’s also the Grand Guignol scene where Mr Pile emerges covered in blood and Ms Gallagher doesn’t emerge at all; it was a very powerful visual effect.

A bloody JasonEmilia Owen brings a good degree of motherly warmth to her role and is very moving in the scene where she begs forgiveness in the church. I didn’t really believe that someone as kind-hearted as her would be capable of killing their own child – and I think, on reflection, I was right! At the other end of the scale, Lori Heather’s tough talking, aggressive cleaner is the stuff of nightmares and it’s a great characterisation of someone who’s lost sight of anything human about themselves. My only slight criticism would be that at times of high anxiety and near hysteria, some of her verbal clarity got lost. I could tell she was furious, but I couldn’t always make out the words that expressed it!

Very nice ensemble work and a great star coupling with Mr Pile and Ms Gallagher. And a thought-provoking play that’s still intriguing me several days later! Congratulations on an enjoyable and challenging production.

Review – An Anti-Panto Double Bill – The Night Before Christmas and The Flint Street Nativity, Third Year Acting Students at University of Northampton, Maidwell Theatre, Northampton, 15th December 2017

Anti-Panto Double BillIn a sharp contrast to the traditional panto of Cinderella that their colleagues performed yesterday, other members of the Third Year Acting Students at Northampton University performed two one-act plays, described as an Anti-Panto double bill. I thought that was what you had before a lasagne, but what do I know?

Jac BurbridgeWe started with The Night Before Christmas, by Anthony Neilson, a short, spikey little comedy set in a cheap gifts warehouse on the night before Christmas. Wide-boy owner Gary has caught someone lurking in the warehouse, with a bag of tools and a seemingly mischievous intent – but it turns out to be one of Santa’s elves, who’s fallen from the sledge and is now worried that the Big Man will have to cancel Christmas trying to find him. No way José is this a feeble attempt by a petty thief/junkie to explain why he was caught breaking and entering a warehouse, no sirree. Gary calls his disgruntled mate Simon to show him the elf, because, otherwise, well, you just wouldn’t believe it, would you? An unhappy customer and maybe semi-significant other of Gary’s, Cherry, also turns up and gets involved in the surreal comedy.

Radostin RadevI thought this was a whole lot of fun and all four performers were great. If you were ever going to work out an elf’s character and motivation, Radostin Radev’s hilarious take on it is about as good as you can get. With his naively simple smile, don’t hurt me body language and part childlike-part junkie accent, he made me laugh all the way through. I loved the pose he adopted in order to give his three wishes – and then his subsequent exhaustion. His performance is a perfectly pitched combination of silliness with just a hint of the sinister. Great job.

Kate Morgan-JonesJac Burbridge was also very good as Simon, dishing out the expletives like they were After Eights, striking just the right note of belligerence and disbelief; he’s technically very strong with a great confident delivery and excellent enunciation, which is always a huge bonus. I loved Kate Morgan-Jones as the upfront and extremely direct Cherry – a right nasty piece of work who gets unpleasantly excited at the prospect of torturing the elf. Her character was the soul of aggression, and she delivered it superbly.Alexander Forrester-Coles Alexander Forrester-Coles had some nice throwaway lines and asides as Gary, never missing an opportunity to do a deal with the police, and very amusingly reflecting all those awkward thoughts you’d experience if you were suddenly required to do mouth to mouth resuscitation. All in all, a really smart quartet of actors delivering a punchy piece with a great feeling for the comedy.

Farrah DarkAfter an interval, the second play was The Flint Street Nativity, a nativity performance from hell, performed by adults but as young children, with all their insecurities, hatreds, showings-off and other terrible traits. We see the preparations, and last-minute rehearsals; the vomit-inducing nerves, the off- and on-stage tantrums; the bossy gang leader who decides who from the group is and who isn’t in favour; the lisping new boy who doesn’t know the ropes; the good little girl who can be relied on to narrate the story properly; the boy who’s obsessed with spacemen; and so on. At times it’s extremely funny, and the cast worked well together as an ensemble; at times I felt the humour dragged a little and to be honest, even though it only takes about fifty minutes to perform, it felt a little overlong to me. After all, once you get the basic joke, there’s not a lot of places you can take it. But that’s my argument with the writer, not the performers.

Gemma FenshamThere were some very beautifully played performances; Farrah Dark was superb as Mary, trying so hard to be good, giving us a very effective puke-up, and fighting to hold on to her starring role despite the vengeful machinations of the horrid Angel Gabriel played very convincingly like a vicious spoilt brat by Gemma Fensham. Megan Leask-Walters gave a very good performance as the well-behaved narrator, capturing the essence of a child under pressure by means of worried expressions and awkward body language – she did a really good job.

Robert CharlesJason Pile was convincing as the obsessed spaceboy, bringing every conversation round to some form of NASA-based content – and ending up with a very funny and authentic walking on the moon sequence. Robert Charles made us all feel sympathetic for the plight of the new boy and it was a genuinely moving moment when he finally made a friend; and I did enjoy Naomi Eli’s discomfort at having to swap sides of affection depending on what she was told to do by the horrid Angel Gabriel. Robert BarnesBut for me the stand-out performance was by Robert Barnes as the Question of Sport-mad boy who relived old episodes to all and sundry ad nauseam (including his excitable interpretation of a round of applause) and who couldn’t resist looking for his parents in the audience when on-stage. Very likeable and very funny.

An enjoyable double-bill that tested the actors’ comedic skills to very good effect. Congratulations to all on two jobs well done!