Review – DNA, Final Year Actors at the University of Northampton, Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, 7th June 2018

DNAFor the first time, the Final Year Actors at Northampton University have been invited to present their plays in London, at the Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate, which is an exciting opportunity to be seen in the Capital City with all its obvious attractions (although performing on the stage of the Royal in Northampton is not to be sneezed at either).

Jason Pile as AdamThe first of these plays is DNA, a one-act play by Dennis Kelly, that originally saw light of day as part of a National Theatres Connections season. It’s a smart, surprising and rather disturbing play where a group of teenagers commit an act of atrocity on another teenager, with apparently disastrous consequences. How far will they go to cover up their crime, and, after multiple lies and deceits, does there come a time simply to stop digging?

Tiffany Mae RiversI must be honest, gentle reader; at first, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this. The play started with some artistic movement where all the cast loomed and merged together from different parts of the stage for some significant meaning that totally passed me by. Whilst I appreciate the skill, it didn’t (for me) add to the story-telling or character-understanding in any way. The older I get, the more I feel that life is too precious to waste. Just get on with the play!

Maddy OgedengbeAnd then the early parts of the play itself seemed rather difficult for the audience to get a grip on what was going on, and I was feeling a little frustrated at the rather stagey, unnatural speech patterns. But then, after a short time, everything just clicked into place. The play, through this eloquent and revealing production, offers an alarming insight into pack mentality and the abuse that can exist between friends – both physical and mental.

Amelia RenardRunning throughout the play is a central storyline of the needy relationship between Leah and Phyl, who’s clearly the boss of the outfit. Leah constantly seeks Phyl’s approval, her input, her recognition; and Phyl delights in refusing to acknowledge her at all. In the end, Leah cannot take this any more and so packs her bags and escapes; and the final scene shows Phyl, sans Leah, still tight-lipped, but no longer through dominance, but through a sad emptiness. Tiffany Mae Rivers gives a stunning performance as the garrulous Leah, burbling and murfling her way through life, filling every silence with needy drivel; and Maddy Ogedengbe is excellent as the stony-faced, insolent Phyl, buttering her waffles with controlling cruelty. The whole play balances on this relationship and it works superbly well.

Zoe ElizabethThe whole cast put in a great ensemble effort, but I particularly enjoyed the upstart rivalry to the Phyl regime offered by Zoe Elizabeth as Rikki, the “good girl” frustration of Amelia Renard’s Danni who sees her prospect of dental training going up in smoke, and Georgi McKie’s belligerent Lou. Big credit to Katie Lawson for taking over the role of Bryony at short notice and making the character chillingly unhinged.

Georgi McKieThis is a play where the characters’ thoughts run away with themselves before their mouths have the chance to catch up with them; as a result there are lots of half-formulated sentences, and phrases left hanging in the air. It’s a tough job to make them sound convincing and natural but the cast did an excellent job of conveying the flow of concentration whilst still making it sound sense.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production and thought everyone did sterling work! Congratulations to all.

Review – Screw You, Sonder Ensemble, Flash Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year Acting Students, Hazelrigg House, Northampton, 23rd April 2018

Flash FestivalIt only seems a few months ago that I enjoyed (and I really did!) the 2017 Flash Festival but, here it is again, all bright and shiny and ready to entertain for another year. There are twelve shows on offer for 2018, and, with any luck, Mr Smallmind and I will get to see all of them. I’m expecting keyboard arthritis by the end of the week.

Screw YouFirst up was Screw You, performed by the Sonder Ensemble in an intimate little studio upstairs at Hazelrigg House. Inspired by last year’s upsetting reports of epidemic sexual harassment in the entertainment industry that centred on the Harvey Weinstein revelations, Ceara Coveney, Gemma Leigh and Katie Lawson have assembled a fascinating, emotional and disturbing piece that takes verbatim accounts from some of the victims and weaves together an exposé of institutionalised harassment.

Ceara CoveneyIt’s largely a collection of accounts by women and men approached by sexual predators who can get them just the right job opportunity if they play along with their sordid game. For a time last year we were all reading these accounts in the papers and online every day, and after a while the regularity and frequency of these appalling stories lessened their impact and unfortunately made the subject almost mundane. But the shock of hearing these accounts is far greater when someone is standing in front of you and relating these intimidating and terrifying ordeals in person.

Gemma LeighThe three actors have created a superb ensemble piece bringing these stories to life through a range of characters. You see how some people cope with these experiences through humour; others are simply so broken by the devastation of what’s happened to them that they can barely string a sentence together. The effect of watching and hearing these accounts at close hand is very powerful.

Katie LawsonTechnically it was a great performance; all three actors have superbly clear enunciation, so it was a joy to listen to, and I also admired how they created a physically intriguing show from what could otherwise be quite static material. Whilst one person is telling their story the other two might be acting out public reactions, or performing some intimate mime, giving an indication of the physical harassment involved. With the help of some newspaper cuttings on the backdrop, and using only three stools, they gave depth to their shallow stage area and formed creative spatial relationships, which really helped to convey the material to the audience. All three also showed off an excellent command of accents, with some very effective North American and Antipodean voices in there.

At just 25 minutes long it fully endorses the old phrase that brevity is the soul of wit. Punchy, painful and poignant, this drove home the horrors of sexual harassment in both the entertainment industry and also out there in real life. A clear and angry voice in support of the #metoo victims. Great work!