views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

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

★★★★☆

Promotional image for The One Festival 2016

Photography supplied by The Space

Like most modern inventions, although the internet can be an extraordinary force for good, it's also capable of extreme harm. The contributors to Programme D are clearly glass half-empty types because the weightier pieces in this selection of monologues choose to explore not how the web has revolutionised our lives, but how it's managed to ruin them. Yes, the D in this programme stands for dark and twisty. Just as well we're glass half-full people and content to watch a bit of dark and twisty.

Unusually, Nick Myles has written and directed two separate yet interconnected plays. The P-Word, Part 1: Mother Maggie and The P-Word, Part 2: Victoria's Story offer a different insight into the same situation and although sequentially numbered, they could run out of order, back-to-back or stand alone. Spacing them out in Programme D seems to be a deliberate decision to prove they're robust enough to be staged without support from the other one. The point is well made, but given the impact of Myles' writing, the pieces which plug the gap do suffer as a result of the scheduling.

In Myles' first monologue, we meet Sam's mother, Maggie (Jeanette Rourke), who launches into a tirade about the woman who's taken her precious son away from her. Immediately Maggie is established as the stereotypical mother-in-law, believing her son can do no wrong. Her unwavering devotion for Sam is both her greatest strength and greatest flaw. Although we're intimidated by her, her fiercely protective maternal nature reveals a hidden softness to her personality and allows us to sympathise with her when she reveals her horrific news.

Rourke initially struts on stage in a jacket adorned in bold red sequins which Maggie wears almost as a type of body armour. With the jacket on, she's outgoing and audacious, able to cope with anything and anyone. There's a moment where she stands facing us with her sparkly jacket slung on her chair, framing the solid bars of the chair and hinting at the unpleasant truth that Maggie wants to keep covered up. Rourke's portrayal of Maggie makes us feel a wide range of emotions, but ultimately, it doesn't matter whose side we take, we believe her devastation is real.

Sam's much maligned wife Victoria (Abi Taylor Jones) gets a voice of her own in Victoria's Story. After hearing Victoria vilified by her mother-in-law, it's interesting to hear a second side of the same tale. There are references from the first play woven into this one, which is a nice touch, however you don't need to have heard Maggie's side to be pulled into Victoria's account of what has happened. Without ever directly hearing from Sam (there is no Part 3), we're forced to draw our own conclusions and are left sympathising with both women for different reasons.

Each programme has a few throwaway fleeting monologues, and Programme D is no exception, providing us with Every City Has a Number 50 Bus and Paul Scott. Julie Burrow gives a heartfelt performance in the former, and Paul Tonkin provides a sharp and assured delivery in the latter, even when even when his character is stumbling around in front of us and comically failing to open his own front door. There's not a great deal to fault, however with these two pieces bookended by Myles' much weightier writing, they disappear from memory quickly.

With Myles having already delved into the murky side of the internet, Isabel Dixon continues that journey with Troll. When we meet her protagonist, Toby (Andrew Gourlay), he's staring at a Macbook surrounded by empty crisp packets. Director Katherine Timms immediately sets our expectations for Toby to turn out to be a lanky, angsty computer nerd. Whilst Toby's a bright lad when it comes to technology, he has been unwittingly friendzoned by the object of his affection and isn't taking it well. It's a tale as old as time - well, as old as the 1980s.

Dixon's writing is so provocative because by the time she allows Toby to tells us exactly what he's done, we've become invested in his back story and can understand his actions. Not only do we physically ache for the trolled, but we feel something almost akin to sympathy for the troll as well. Gourlay delivers a disturbingly dark performance which leaves us feeling dirty. Does Toby really deserve our pity? Rightly or wrongly, he earns it from us.

As emotionally draining as Programme D can be, it's a worthwhile experience. The pieces are accomplished and smart, forcing us to look beyond the obvious.

The One Festival opened on 10th February and runs until 21st February. Programme D opened on 13th February, ran on 18th February and next runs on 20th February 2016.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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