views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Scratch That Hackney
Hackney Attic
14th May 2013


Photography provided by Scratch That Hackney

One of the best things about London is that there is so much going on. It's also conversely one of the worst things, because it means we often have to agonise over which show to go to see - as much as we'd love to, we can't get round them all. Which is why Scratch That Hackney is such a great concept, it brings together lots of short pieces from the different types of entertainment on offer - theatre, film, music and comedy. Performers are generally trying out new material, it may not quite be finished, but in our opinion the opportunity to shape new writing (feedback is expressly welcomed!) more than compensates for the lack of polish at times.

The evening began with a spoken excerpt from Seen in Soft Focus by storyteller Alice Malseed. Initially hard to follow and a touch repetitive, Malseed jumped back and forth through moments in time. But when she began talking about one particular experience in more depth - a drug-fuelled party and the morning after - her tale became much more compelling. Her character, given the style, most likely based on herself, latches onto the insignificant details in significant moments, creating a bleak humour from the inherent capacity for self-destruction. The monologue is undoubtedly given more power due to the storyteller being the author herself, delivering her piece in the stilted, slightly out-of-it style in which it is intended, and adding physical movement and dance music to supplement the recital.

Less successful was Superbard, another spoken word artist, who by his own admission, had made the confusing choice to launch into chapter two of a new piece, to an audience unfamiliar with the plot. He did have a good stage presence, but, again, we struggled to understand the plot. The finished work, with a beginning, end and with more people narrating will be much clearer.

Rag & Bone Theatre, comprising Samuel Chatterley and Einz Loffrey, performed Lots of Seals, a comedy sketch about a synth-pop duo from the 80s attempting to relaunch their career now. The concept was sound but the references to current affairs, including examples of how 80s are coming back, were not sufficiently sharp to be properly satirical. And whilst Rag & Bone don't have the same vocal power as Fringe regulars and established comedy duo Frisky and Mannish, they do have some great energy and confidence. We'd love to see more of their work.

There was also a rehearsed reading of a few scenes from Olga Nikora's new play, David. Titular protagonist David accidentally "electrocutes to death" his housemate, and in his guilty, drug-addled mind, keeps him alive in his imagination. David is silly, pathetic and petulant - and most importantly, we wanted to hear where his story ends. We suspect not in a good place, but we would like to know nonetheless.

Next up was Tim Porter's music video for Paul Cook & The Chronicles' song Ships Pass. The song itself was about a couple seeking comfort in each other as they try to find real love elsewhere, and Porter's visuals complemented this beautifully. Filming in black and white and sun flare may be too traditionally artsy to be anything truly exciting or avante garde, but watching the couple's possessions become slowly overcome by the river captures the tone of the song well and it's clear a lot of thought has gone into the work.

But the real highlight of the night was James Wheale's Maskboy. It's a short film in which he recites a fantastic beat poem-cum-rap about insecurity crippling him in his relationship and his idea that becoming a superhero will give him strength to solve his problems. After a hypnotic space-based opening, we meet Maskboy/James. He cuts the figure of a Peter Parker type, awkward and dishevelled in a world filled with unspooled film, unravelling like his confidence and love. But combined with an ethereal, ambient chillwave backing track, his words cut deep and the poem itself, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, is always smart.

The Kitten Killers closed off the evening with their take on all-female sketch comedy. It was crude, vulgar and rehashed some old jokes, but we were still entertained, and in particular by their musical number, which explained the group's name. The foursome certainly delivered the material well and we don't think we've ever feared for the safety of young cats so much.

By opening up Scratch That Hackney to newcomers and works-in-progress, the organisers are taking a gamble on the quality of each event. But we would agree with them that the risk is worth it, to give a platform to raw talent. We thoroughly enjoyed the lovely, relaxed atmosphere created by the organisers and would recommend this event to both culture vultures and emerging performers.

Scratch That Hackney takes place on the first Thursday of every month at Hackney Attic.

Nearest station: Hackney Central (Overground)

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