views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The One Festival 2017 - Programme B
The Space
15th January 2017

★★★☆☆

Promotional image for The One Festival 2017

Photography supplied by The Space

If you're after a bit of pure escapism, superheroes, villains and dead people should fit the bill nicely. This year's Programme B flits between real life and fantasy worlds with the B very much standing for bursting with creativity. Anything seems possible in this selection of five new short plays.

Although geek chic has been somewhat fashionable in recent years, being a DC nerd has never been the fastest way to make friends and influence people at school. Kurt (Ross Virgo) struggles to understand why the bullies don't find his heroes as fascinating as he does, retreating into a world of fantasy, spellbound by their adventures. Virgo gives a very fluid and assured performance, pulling at our heartstrings when Kurt realises Superman can't rescue everyone. Elliot Baker's script is imaginative, impressive and engaging.

From heroes to villains, Jodie Botha shrouds writer and performer Steven Shawcroft in darkness and seats him in an armchair, his body language and scowl betraying a traditional baddie. She doesn't go far enough as to hand him a white, fluffy cat, however you get the idea as he glares at us, sitting up stiffly and tapping the armrests with menace. Shawcroft's gives a convincing performance of a disillusioned actor trying to match the success of his idol, with this dialogue so close to the mark that it's almost uncomfortable to listen to. Whilst the words are well crafted, there's something missing in the delivery, with Shawcroft not quite rounding out the character enough to be fully credible. It is a clever idea for a vignette nonetheless.

Black and white becomes a lot murkier in Gypsy Queen. The gentle sounds of the ocean combined with Lauren Barnes' soothing voice and peaceful demeanour give a distinct air of otherworldliness to Sepy Baghaei's monologue. In many ways, it feels like an old folk story or fairytale rather than than a piece of new writing. From the poetic language the woman uses to describe her lover, he could just as easily be a sailor from many centuries ago, disappearing from months on end to do trades with distance lands, as he could be a modern day businessman who racks up a lot of frequent flyer miles. The period of the play is deliberately ambiguous and it's interesting how this affects our judgement of the woman - is her quiet fury justified or is she unhinged? Thoughtfully staged, Baghaei not only entertains us but leaves us with plenty to ponder.

In Robert Elkin's Quiet Night In, we meet Sophie (Amy Gough), a publishing assistant who loves reality TV like First Dates and Come Dine With Me, applying for a spot on a brand new show for a laugh. Whilst it could very be either, it feels more sci-fi than mental breakdown, with Gough's delivery effortlessly charming and humorous. As the doorbell rings to announce each of her dinner party guests, we already know who to expect. Elkin gets the timing spot on, with the foreshadowing making the laughs bigger, rather than detracting from the joke. It's a bit of daft fun and very well received by the audience.

As the title suggests, Jonathan Skinner's Spit or Swallow? is a short monologue based on innuendo. Actress Jennifer Oliver delivers a delightfully comedic performance, drunkenly demanding two men in the front row help her with her shoes and then stomping around the space. Although Skinner would be hard pushed to make this a longer piece, it's an enjoyable enough piece of disposable fluff, helping to balance out the programme's mood.

Bonkers in places, but that's to be expected if past Programmes B in the festival are anything to go by. A brief, welcome introduction to some intriguing performers and creatives who will no doubt return to The Space sometime soon.

The One Festival opened on 10th January and runs until 29th January. Programme B opened on 11th January, ran on 15th, 20th and 24th January and next runs on 29th January 2017.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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