views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Tristan Bates Theatre
21st August 2013


Playwrights normally write full length pieces of theatre about subjects they hold dear, what sparks their passion - and they take as long as it takes to get that vision on paper. The Pensive Federation as we know by now openly reject that norm, and instead present writers with short play writing challenges akin to a theatrical version of Werner Herzog's Dogme movement. The restrictions imposed on each play probably help and hinder in equal measure, it's a quirky and yet self-limiting concept, but writers Jo Pockett, Caro Dixey, Serena Haywood and Sarah Pitard have responded admirably.

This time round, a short script with two unnamed characters is what is meant to fuel the creativity with all four two-handers being performed by Neil J Byden and Laura Kim under the direction of Cat Robey. Pockett and Pitard take a more traditional tack, exploring love through friendships. In Pockett's I'm Okay, Are You?, which kicks off the night, Byden and Kim play two self-obsessed friends, each bemoaning their own romantic disasters. Talking at cross-purposes without actually communicating, the pair never seem less than friends despite being so self-involved, both down to the writing and performances.

Dixey branches off into an unusual direction, looking at the relationship between two strangers as one helps the other end her life. The reasons that have led up to the scenario are briefly touched upon and discarded, Done is not a moral debate about assisted suicide, it's about isolation and the very human capacity to reach out. Overall, it's a poignant and bittersweet tale that, despite being too idealistic, will nonetheless reignite your faith in other people - vital as it ebbs away so easily in London.

Haywood's piece, Direct Action, is memorable for different reasons - and represents a change in gear with a comedic rather than dramatic bent. It provides a palate cleanser after all of the touchy-feeliness, so kudos to whoever decided on the running order. A story of two would-be activists growing closer over an attempt to live life more dangerously, it's nicely constructed and helped along by Kim's delivery, particularly on the big reveal. Whilst Done is more tender, Direct Action is packed full of laughs.

Pitard's final piece, The Beginnings of Love, also focuses more on friendship than non-platonic feelings, bringing the night full-circle while the title leaves things open for progression. Here, it's our female character - rather than the male in the first - that isn't exactly over her ex. We've seen Pitard previously produce some great work, in reimagining Oscar Wilde's witticism in a keen and erudite fashion and in producing an incredibly pointed version of Tartuffe. While Beginnings is perfectly competent and enjoyable, it's also a little unforgettable and inconsequential. It suggests Pitard's words are better suited to a longer-form script or certainly without the constraints imposed here.

The four plays are linked together with a few names and props - a tin lunchbox making an appearance in all. Director Cat Robey stands two rails of clothes at the back, with the performers changing on stage between pieces, presenting their characters to the audience, before the action commencing. It's a ramshackle but charming way of doing it, almost removing the barriers to the audience, converse to the construction of walls for the writing challenge. Both Byden and Kim work well with the material and effortlessly transform into the eight characters.

It's admirable that these writers gamely want to rail against standard fare and constantly flex their muscles, and we would happily sit through people pushing boundaries and not entirely succeeding than playing it safe. But don't get us wrong - while the writing does perhaps vary in quality, the evening never dips below being thoroughly enjoyable.

Rewritten opened on 20th August and runs until 23rd August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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