views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The One Festival 2017 - Programme E
The Space
14th January 2017

★★★☆☆

Promotional image for The One Festival 2017

Photography supplied by The Space

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. With a festival of short plays, you know the odds are that you won't like everything. Thankfully though, most of the monologues in the One Festival have been very strong, and with each one being short (anything between five minutes and an hour), there's been something for everyone. Programme E, right at the end, explores identity and contains a few of the best entries in the festival as well as the weakest one, being a tale of two halves as much as anything else.

Opening the programme, Searching Shadows is part-tribute to writer and performer Emily Orley's radiologist grandfather, part-lecture on the history of the x-ray. Rejecting stage lights in favour of a small desk lamp and old school slide projector immediately creates a dark, intimate space in which secrets could be shared and memories unravelled. Orley's set is wonderfully detailed; it becomes a dimly lit room belonging to an enthusiastic scholar who has packed it full of books, academic props and other useful bits of research. The woman in front of us has clearly been searching for answers and we hope she has found some to share with us.

There's a distinctly professorial style to the piece, with Orley reading from a book and projecting images of flesh and bones, her tone always even and unchanging. We watch, waiting for some warmth or emotion, expecting Orley to let us into something more personal than a collection of x-rays and historical fact, but Orley continues to lecture, methodically continuing through the 27 segments of her show. Certain elements are fascinating; this is after all a piece anchored in truth and science rather than pure imagination. However, it feels more like a tutorial than a piece of storytelling and the point at which we realise we're not going to get anything more from Orley than a guided walk in the past is bitterly disappointing.

Unfortunately, due to Orley's rigid signposting, we know exactly how far we are from the end and the piece drags on. Her frequent repositioning and use of sound on cassette only further breaks up the flow, with director Christopher Heighes failing to capture our attention. If only Orley were to show us some of the passion driving her work and put more of herself into this hourlong piece, Searching Shadows could be uniquely diverting. As it stands, it lacks in emotion and belongs in a lecture hall rather than a theatre, which is a real shame.

Cheryl Walker takes a very different approach to her tale about her grandfather, with If the Shoe Fits so much more personal and as such, more engaging. She flits between accents, impersonating members of her family as well as her younger self, explaining an identity crisis that is perfectly relatable to many Londoners. Her physical appearance suggests a strong cultural and emotional bond with a faraway land, but as a school girl who has never actually been there, it holds no such connection. To assume, as we all know, is to make an an ass of "u" and me. Walker shares with us her experiences of finally visiting family in Jamaica and the impact on her own sense of self.

Director Simone Watson keeps the energy high, with Walker rarely stopping for more than a second to breathe, readily sharing pieces of herself and charming us with her honesty and warmth. Props largely consist of different shoes, with Walker linking the different styles to different versions of herself, with all the accompanying thoughts, hopes and fears. She saunters, darts about and poses on the stage, every movement natural and every word believable. The contrast between how much Walker is willing to put into her art and how much Orley is willing to share is marked, with Walker's play thoroughly entertaining.

Niamh de Valera's piece Among the Missing may be a fictional piece, however also manages to capture part of herself in the character's personality and movement, proving the point that you can't hold back if you want a piece of theatre to touch your audience. In this simple one-hander, recent graduate Dani (Jess Neale) is managing an independent cafe, taking pride in what she does and yet unfulfilled, acutely aware that she's not doing much with her history of art degree. When a new customer walks in, studying the same subject and having landed a coveted internship in a fancy art gallery, those feelings of personal inadequacy rise to the surface.

Show me someone who claims that they've never made a comparison to someone else and felt like a failure as a result and I'll show you a liar. Dani is smart enough to disconnect the seemingly perfect girl she meets from her own feelings and confront them head on, but she still ends up bruised. As you would expect, of course. Jealousy is a difficult demon to conquer. Neale's performance is nuanced and honest, immediately eliciting empathy. Among the Missing is a short but perfectly formed piece of good old-fashioned storytelling.

Another pared back piece of staging comes in the form of Cornet Solo. Ice-cream seller Ianto (Silas John Hawkins) is inwardly bemoaning his lack of trade to himself, when he receives an odd request from a police officer and finds his day taking a very different turn of events. Playwright Ben Francis weaves a captivating little tale, ably delivered with all the emotion and intensity that it needs by Hawkins. Again, it's a short piece that shows that monologues can be as entertaining as a piece with a larger cast, if done right.

Whilst the first half doesn't draw you in, the second is very much worth the wait, promising ice cream, shoes and so much more. Programme E is a curious exploration of who we are and the moment when we truly understand that.

The One Festival opened on 10th January and runs until 29th January. Programme A opened on 14th January, ran on 18th, 22nd and 27th January and next runs on 29th January 2017.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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