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The One Festival 2016 - Programme A
The Space
13th February 2016

★★★☆☆

Promotional image for The One Festival 2016

Photography supplied by The Space

The rules of The One Festival are simple: produce monologues. Lots of 'em. The Space offers its artists plenty of freedom in this annual celebration of one-person shows and there's something immeasurably exciting about seeing them take that freedom and embrace it with such enthusiasm. Programme A stands out as the most experimental collection of plays in the festival - if you thought monologues were just one person standing on stage reciting a soliquay, this will convince you that this genre is capable of so much more than that.

In the first play, there isn't even anyone on stage. No, really. Get a Job is a one-woman piece written by Sebastian Rex about an actress failing to make it big and struggling to come to terms with her lack of success so far. Theatre-makers are fond of self-deprecating humour, frequently poking fun at themselves just to raise a laugh. Yet this feels different to the usual tropes. Firstly, there's no comedy. Unlike You Won't Believe What This Man Does Next from Programme B, this is all about the all-consuming depression that engulfs you when you fail. Our protagonist, Stacey Evans, shares the same name as the actress herself, so the line between reality and art is uncomfortaby blurred.

The action is broadcast live from a webcam and therefore sometimes freezes for a moment in that same irritating way that all video calls inevitably seem to do in everyday life, super fast whizz-bang fibre optic connection or not. This adds to the realism of the play and heightens our emotional response. Furthermore, the ever-present risk that the feed may cut out without warning and leave us staring at an empty space without any closure creates tension. When the show finally ends, a button is pressed and Stacey is gone. It feels as if it was too easy to remove her, and we're left feeling hollow and somehow culpable for letting her quite literally fade away. For me, theatre is usually something best experienced in person, however director Adam Hemming has cleverly separated the audience and performer with technology and still made it feel intimate.

As well as writing one piece, Rex also directs two other submissions in Programme A; Tripping with Trump and Bring Me The Head of Claudia Winkleman. The former is a short monologue written by Colleen Osborn in which a woman (Alex Vincent) talks about doing drugs with a man with an impossibly famous name. In the latter, penned by Aaron Hubbard, another woman (Avita Jay) complains about her mum's obsession with Strictly Come Dancing. Both pieces are unsubstantial and primarily offer comic relief, but they're solid little vignettes acted well which do offer a brief prompt for reflection before we move on.

Imogen Butler-Cole blends dance and prerecorded speech in Foreign Body, a very personal piece based on her own experience of assault. Whilst the framing device is intelligent, it does feel underdeveloped. More work is needed on Niamh McKernan's movement to more clearly convey the separation of body and mind in such a brutal betrayal. It's an intriguing work-in-progress, however also one which needs fine-tuning in order to achieve the impact that Butler-Cole's work deserves.

Promotional image for The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall

Photography supplied by Fool's Cap Theatre

Closing the programme, when things get tough, the instinct for fight or flight takes over. In The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, our protagonist, Hans (Vini Carvalho) literally takes flight, escaping his many creditors by travelling to the moon in a hot air balloon. Carvalho and Ramon Ayres have both adapted this tale from Edgar Allan Poe's 19th-century short story and given it a steampunk sci-fi makeover. Although it is recognisable as Poe's work, this telling relies more on physical theatre than narrative and it injects more mystery and magic into the original tale. Their Hans is no vagabond on the run, he's a roguish adventurer truly dreaming of the stars.

Out of all 19 submissions to the festival, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall is the most ambitious, making use of video projection, an ethereal soundscape, highly detailed props and steampunk-inspired costumes. The play frequently floats back and forth between beguiling and bewildering as the tone shifts and we're unsure whether we're passively watching a fantastical narrative or taking part in a physics lesson with a mad professor. Although Ayres' pacing feels off, it's certainly a fascinating piece of work which keeps the audience drawn in.

Wildly creative and varied, Programme A demonstrates that monologues need have few limitations. There are plenty of new ideas on display with the potential to go further.

The One Festival opened on 10th February and runs until 21st February. Programme A opened on 10th February, ran on Saturday 13th February and next runs on Sunday 21st February 2016.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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