views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Space
27th September 2016


Damian Cooper and Annabel Smith in Manifesto

Photography supplied by The Space

When it comes to describing our basic values and how we think we would react in any given scenario, it's really easy coming up with a list. Real life though has a habit of properly testing our principles. Now, I would describe myself as calm under pressure because I frequently am and I think that's a nice quality to have, but defining myself by that statement hasn't stopped me from previously wanting to chuck a laptop out the window. (If said window wasn't glued shut, said laptop would actually have met its doom from a great height. We all snap sometimes; we're imperfect creatures.) Manifesto presents a selection of 14 carefully chosen points on how you should consider living your life, which form a series of almost mini plays, bookended by one concept with a neat circularity.

Whilst playwright Sebastian Rex's innovative style is evident in the playful script, there's also a strong sense of Manifesto being somewhat of an improvised piece. It's quirky, it's interesting and tonally, it varies a lot. Getting through 14 very different vignettes in just over an hour does make it hard for director Danielle McIllven to maintain a sense of coherency, making Manifesto a bit of a slow burner. Once you settle into what it's trying to do, it really grows on you and begins to feel more intelligent, culminating in some quite hard-hitting, moving and gloriously chaotic end scenes. There are definitely stronger aspects to the whole production, however it's a hugely fascinating new piece of work which piques your curiosity throughout. You always want to see what comes next, curious as to how the different points to the group's manifesto will be challenged and played out.

Everyone will have their own standout moment. For me, it's point twelve, with players Damian Cooper and Annabel Smith illustrating a toxic relationship with both feverish passion and at times, a cool distance and sense of disconnect. There's a very troubling and yet relatable air to their scenes. Adam Hemming narrates the start of this piece with Sadie Parsons providing deliberately old school sound effects that any Blue Peter fans would be proud of, and what makes this piece so shocking isn't necessarily Cooper and Smith's powerful interactions, but the horrified and transfixed gazes of Emma Blackman, Hemming and Parsons in the background to a painfully tragic soundscape. A deeply clever vignette that contrasts beautifully the notion of allowing more love in our lives. Whatever this is, it's not love and we shouldn't invite it in.

One of my favourite things about The Space is how many diverse productions I've seen there that have nothing in common with each other and yet all seem to be perfectly designed for the same one venue. Here, we witness five players present their manifesto to us in a wooden building bedecked with jolly bright bunting, traditional biscuits galore and an overhead projector. It just makes sense that you would hold such a quaint presentation in an old church hall or town hall and with The Space a converted church, it just instinctively feels right. The cast and crew are comprised of very some familiar names, with the venue's AD taking a turn on stage and proving he's just as capable of performing onstage as he is directing off it. Everyone involved in this show knows the venue and that comes across in the way that they've all had some real fun with it. There's been a lot of flexing of creative muscles.

Although I very much doubt that Manifesto will be the highlight of the new Autumn season at The Space, it's nonetheless a strong and imaginative start and one that clearly demonstrates a laudable desire to perpetually experiment. Manifesto is a compelling, fresh and exciting new work that tells us a lot about the ethos of in-house company Space Productions. It certainly has our attention and our vote.

Manifesto opened on 27th September and runs until 8th October 2016 at The Space.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)

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