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The Significant Other Festival
Park Theatre
22nd May 2013

★★★☆☆

Asking playwrights to devise new works exploring the relationships between significant others may not sound like much of a challenge. After all, they have been dining out on profound love and friendship for centuries. It's the bread and butter of their craft. But when you allocate them a particular genre that they must incorporate in their plays - and a time frame of only five days to get their creative juices flowing - the game is suddenly on.

This is exactly what The Pensive Federation have done. And not only have they challenged the writers, they've challenged the cast and crew. Each script has been produced by a team comprising one director and two actors, with a further five days to translate the words into performances. It's a great concept, and displaying its results in a new theatre is very apt. Park Theatre only opened its doors for the first time this month and while the new paint smell has gone, it still looks modern, clean and fresh. We like it very much.

With that said, the Morris Space may be a terrific little rehearsal room, but there's no getting away from the fact that it is still a rehearsal room. It doesn't quite succeed as somewhere to stage a performance for the simple reason that neither the stage nor audience is graduated. It seems that the majority of directors forgot about this, with the opening of Julie Green's Dave and the Girl from Nexus a particular casualty. A temporary raised platform on which Dave (Neil Sheppeck) could have lain would have allowed more people to share the, admittedly rather funny, joke.

Some of the ten minute pieces felt like they could have been fleshed out further with more time, but others, like Nick Myles' Rip it to Shreds, were rather pleasingly self-contained. However here director Joanna Greaves chose not to signpost scene transitions, making it initially confusing. A contrast with the opening play, Will Howells' Wherever I Lay My Hat, in which director Cat Robey used a black fedora, dip in lighting and gentle jazz to switch clearly between the action and narration of the rather cool noir short. Sure, they're mainstays of the gumshoe, but with the quick-fire nature of the evening, you don't have time for too much subtlety.

Although each was inspired by a particular genre, in many places it was a nod and a wink rather than an all-out pastiche. For example, Eastbound saw cowboy boots and the metaphorical walking off into the sunset of two women meeting by chance. Instead of feeling like a cop-out, these appropriated themes and not simply tropes.

One thing that featured through the night was comedy, but nowhere more evident than in Penny Faith's COYI. Lucy Fazey and Ryan Wichert play two West Ham supporters, watching the most important game of their lives. Director Bryony Jervis-Taylor frames key moments well, and both actors bring a great energy to the piece, bouncing off each other and showing a real rapport. It's especially fun to watch their exaggerated expressions change as they gaze into the distance at the TV.

The most successful piece was undoubtedly the short musical number A Month and Five Days. It had no great substance, but plenty of humour. Alexandra Fisher flitted easily between the attractive uptight librarian Miss Larwood and her singing alter-ego Dame Andrews. Music and lyrics from Mike Carter, Lemon Otter and Franner Jordan equipped her to deliver a great performance, but the execution was her own. Support was given ably by Daniel Page as Jack Andrews, but it was Fisher firmly planted in the limelight.

Icebergs by Camilla Whitehill was also delightfully daft. Kim Burnett and Alfie Rowland play failed crime masterminds and siblings Ellie and Tom, almost Pinky and the Brain. The brother-sister dynamic is well written, with laughs arising from Tom's frustration at his self-perceived greater intelligence and ambition in the traditional double-act sense.

As always these showcases are nothing if not an interesting experiment and a chance for writers, directors and actors to flex their muscles. There may be some more polish required, but there's a lot of talent crammed into the evening. If this is what they can all produce after a matter of days, it's very heartening as to what they could achieve with a more realistic window.

The Significant Other Festival ran from 21st to 25th May 2013 at the Park Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Finsbury Park (Victoria, Piccadilly)



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