In this review:
Secrets, a night of new writing, produced by Jodi Burgess and taking place at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre in London, showcased four playwrights' pieces: 'Only Professionally', 'It Was Funny the First Time', 'Just How It Is', and 'Mote in Your Eye'.
I will first start with a general overview of the night and then review each piece separately.
This night was enjoyable. The overarching theme of secrets perforated every piece well, whether directly or indirectly. I would say that the theme was explored rather blandly through 'Mote in Your Eye' and 'It Was Funny the First Time', with the go-tos of secret sexualities and murders, but this had no serious impact on the enjoyability of the night. Overall, characterisation was good, and each piece had its own style and personality, feeding into its individual narrative effectively. An interesting selection.
I would perhaps have considered set a tad more scrupulously, however, particularly for the extract from Megan Fellows's Telo, 'Just How It Is'. The mise-en-scène for this piece was by far superior to the others, being prop-heavy, involving technology, and having specific costume choices and a more elaborate set. Whilst this, indeed, worked well for this piece, it perhaps made the other pieces somewhat dull-looking in comparison. Yes, this piece relied more heavily on props and set than the other, more character-based pieces, but this would be something to consider. It just seemed odd, for me, to have a fully-polished extract amongst self-contained writings, and to have it treated differently in this way.
Scene transitions were smooth, keeping the momentum of the night going, and lighting, in its on-off simplicity; was effective and aided this smoothness well.
“A thematic and endearing night.”
'Only Professionally' by Gregory Skulnick
Director: Velenzia Spearpoint
Cast: Hayley Osborne (Actor) and Helen Jessica Liggat (Casting Director)
This piece was very comical. The contrast of an upbeat enthusiast and an acerbic pessimist made for an interesting and engaging duo. Furthermore, the overhanging theme of nudity and rape was successful in creating an unsettling atmosphere, especially towards the end — the writing served well in this. Whilst there were the odd slip-ups on lines from Liggat, the two maintained a good characterisation throughout, each seeming to understand well their characters and their motives.
The piece was very well-written, and despite its quite unnaturalistic dialogue, it maintained the small world it had created efficaciously. I liked that the Casting Director's intentions were somewhat blurred — was she a sexual abuser, or a victim of sexual abuse? And I felt this added to that unnerving ending.
The only thing I felt was perhaps underworked was the Actor's progression (or, rather, regression) into accepting to forget her dignity and strip for the Casting Director. There seemed to be no real lead-up to this. Whilst the Casting Director wasn't particularly manipulative or suggestive with her words, the Actor seemed to suddenly obey her. Perhaps it was out of fear that she did this. If so, this was not clear.
“A very poignant and disarming piece.”
'It Was Funny the First Time' by Ben Francis
Director: Elizabeth Sian Crockett
Cast: Dickon Farmar (Geoff)
This piece I had mixed feelings about. The letter-writing I felt was a nice touch, subtly alluding to a sort of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy technique that Geoff might be being asked to try out. Additionally, linking the letter back to his beloved was an effective revelation, enabling us to share in his remorseful love. Its constant presence on the table was also effective in its demand to be recognised.
The writing of the script itself, though I felt it possessed a somewhat naturalistic quality overall, felt unoriginal and staggered. Serial killers are so easily stereotyped in theatre, and I feel this was the case for this piece. The unsettled, volatile and erratic mind-frame of Geoff I felt to be typical, and this was further drawn attention to by Farmar's acting style. I felt it would have been more unnerving if Farmar had characterised Geoff more naturally. That is to say, if Geoff was presented as a character who spoke of his actions as completely harmless and normal, as opposed to shouting in an incessant rage, it would be more off-putting for spectators to watch; it would seem eerier and more confounding. However, Farmar's erraticism, I felt, took away from any poignancy and flew towards a mania with which it was hard to grapple and empathise (in a macabre way — for it is this comprehension that an audience would find unsettling in reflection, both on the performance and on their reactions to it).
Perhaps if the characterisation had been muted a little, the writing would have worked, but, for me, it just felt too energetic.
“A piece with potential but needing rework.”
'Just How It Is' - An Extract from Telo by Megan Fellows
Director: Kennedy Bloomer
Cast: Parys Jordan (Upstart) Thomas Mailand (Politician)
As mentioned in my review of the night overall, the set for this piece was the most polished, and this, indeed, aided the performance. The dominatrix costume was comical and contrasted well with the drama of their situation and the seriousness of their occupations. Additionally, the countdown projected behind the stage added a slight tension whilst also adding a humorous texture to the anxious and time-keeping character of the Politician.
As for performance, I found both of the actors' characterisations to be a little off, especially towards the end of the performance, for some reason. They both seemed rather wooden, especially Jordan; and whilst Mailand's characterisation was strong at first, his emotivity seemed to stiffen as the piece went on.
The writing was good, but perhaps too focused on allusions to other characters and circumstances — though this may come across differently within the perception of the entire script, being simply an extract. Its plot was engaging and comical, and it definitely felt like an event in a sequence of scenes, which is what one would expect from an extract of a play.
“Intriguing but lacking some vitality.”
'Mote in Your Eye' by Alexis Boddy
Director: Jodi Burgess
Cast: Sian Eleanor (Gillian)
I must start by saying that the writing and concept for this piece were both superb. The mismatch texturing of monologues really captured Gillian's thought processes and the snippets of her memories as they came to her. These monologues all being pertinent to the same topic, all angles of Gillian's opinions on the matter of her sexuality and its reception were covered.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Eleanor's performance. Her acting style felt too energetic in certain places, and yet somehow she did not convey a single change in her thought process in others. It was only through the writing that the change of memories came through. Perhaps this was a decision made by Burgess to show that the memories are merging into one climactic distress, but I felt it difficult to engage with the material because of this. Of course, I would not have preferred an overdramatic change between thoughts, as this would have also been tiring to watch, but some variation is required.
A specific moment I felt to be most fallible, however, was one in which the sound effect of a car speeding off was played. Seeing as the rest of the piece had been voice-heavy, this sound effect seemed very out of place and as though from nowhere. Additionally, there was the appearance of Sonia at the end of the soliloquy. The two shared a smile and a hug, and the lights dimmed. Whilst somewhat cute in itself, the action seemed very unnecessary and just awkward, especially as Sonia had only been mentioned late into the piece. The sudden emergence of a character who wasn't strictly essential to the narrative hence seemed a little odd.