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Significant Other Festival 2015: Object of Affection
Tristan Bates Theatre
16th March 2015

★★★★☆

Promotional image for Significant Other Festival 2015: Object of Affection

Photography provided by the Pensive Federation

Stuff. We may all live in teeny tiny shanty-town homes in London, but we all like stuff. In this year's Significant Other Festival, the Pensive Federation have taken their usual theme of gender-blind relationships and thrown in some fairly random material possessions. The result is Significant Other; Object of Affection. See what they've done there? Ten playwrights, ten directors, ten days, ten random objects and ten pairs of actors and the result is just as varied and joyful as you might hope for. Given the time-pressured element to what the Pensive Federation do, some runs are stronger than others, with this offering holding its own against some of their previous work.

First up is Hayley Wareham's Balloon, in which Jane (Wareham) is surprised by Amy (Mkaya Carrigan), an old girlfriend, who has been unwittingly hired by her very new girlfriend. Small world. Carrigan is endearingly over-the-top as she bursts on stage, with director Bryony Thomas very much creating a light-hearted rom-com from the start. From fledging love to empty nesters, Brian Coyle's Panties tackles what happens when married couple "Steve" (John Rayment) and "Penelope" (Tracey George) try their best to rekindle the magic. Spoiler alert: it doesn't quite go to plan. George is obviously theatrical, with Rayment rather more naive, and although Madelaine Moore intitially plays this for laughs, she brings out the warmth at the heart of the story too: it's a funny premise, but ultimately it's the tale of two people trying to reconnect.

For me, Gavin Dent doesn't quite make clear enough that Oil Can, penned by Giles Fernando, takes place at a car boot sale, making the initial meeting between Gareth (Danny Steele) and Chloe (Gabrielle Curtis) a little confusing. Why would you strike up a conversation about someone's random junk? Ah, right. Car boot. Penny in the air... However once it gets into its swing, we relate to everyman Gareth and former ugly duckling Chloe, with Dent touching on some deep-rooted feelings and memories.

An oil can may not be typically associated with love, but traditional tangible objects do feature, such as Leah Cowan's Ring and Daniel Hinchliffe's Cash. In the former, Jez (Simon Kent) counsels his broken-hearted friend Greg (Chris Anderson) about a bad break up which resulted in something very blingy living on Greg's shelf. In the latter, Marcus (Anthony Cozens) finds his desire for a partner in Amy (Felicity Walsh) making her a partner in crime, but possibly not much more. Director Tom Edge really focuses on the emotion in Ring, with Caro Dixey choosing to play Cash more for laughs.

Sibling dynamics feature in Kevin Jones' Crumble and Alan Harris' Marbles. In Crumble, we see Izzie (Kim Burnett) demand that her sister Sarah (Jenny Wills) unravel the secrets of love, and whilst the basis for a fight feels artificial, Michaela Sisti succeeds in making the relationship between the two characters rather more genuine. In Marbles, Jared Rodgers plays to type as Jared, a slightly awkward, simple fellow, insisting that his brother, Ross (Ross McNamara) proves himself. What I like about Marbles is how the prop is so intrinsic to the story: the crumble is quickly forgotten as Izzie and Sarah move onto other matters, but the marbles remain very much key to understanding Jared and Ross's dynamic. Bryony Thomas (okay, okay, yes, there are actually nine directors with one doubling up, not 10) navigates some complex emotions with throwaway shocking lines, and plenty of humour - essentially achieving a similar tone to the other piece she helms, Balloon.

Promotional image for Significant Other Festival 2015: Object of Affection

Photography provided by the Pensive Federation

Just like Bedspread in last year's festival, it's the mini-musical which steals the night. Joseph Lidster's Shirt is wonderfully ridiculous, with two supermarket cashiers (Kate Donnachie and Sydney Aldridge) fighting over men - well, one man in particular - whilst serving customers. Multitasking skills, they have them. Aldridge is irritatingly bright and breezy, with Donnachie's deadpan promises of hate contrasting against her in a very funny way. Like many of the other directors in this festival, Laura Attridge nails the timing. The music by composer Griffinn Candey is admittedly weak and uninteresting in places, but Rome wasn't built in a day and a great musical wasn't penned and rehearsed in only ten. There's enough here to show potential for a longer musical, and if Candey was given a decent length of time to refine his melodies, I'd absolutely love to see the next incarnation of Shirt. Unlikely to happen, these brainstorms never seem to be revisited, but we can but wish. Definitely my highlight.

Equally ambitious but less successful is Anna Forsyth's Blu-Ray, which has far too many scene changes for a mere ten-minute play. Close friends Pete (Jeremy Donovan) and Allie (Catherine Nix-Collins) reminisce over how they first met, and examine the bonds which keep them together. Paul Thomas really exploits the stage and lighting, and makes the transitioning between past and current day as sharp as possible, but there's just too much material to pack in, making the pacing suffer.

Playwright Breman Rajkumar is given a rather ludicrous prop to incorporate into his play Life-size Cardboard Cut-Out, and this inevitably results in silliness ensuing. Let's face it: you can't create a play about a life-sized Han Solo without having some fun with it. Established couple Mazza (Jayne Edwards) and Jeremy (Tom Blyth) clash heads over what to do with the giant Harrison Ford cut-out dominating their living room, with director Jessica Radcliffe making great use of silences and furtive glances to bring out even more humour from Rajkumar's script.

With the recent double whammy to emerging arts caused by the announced closure of IdeasTap and the fire at Battersea Arts Centre, it's even more important now than ever to support companies who are actively trying to do different, exciting things, rather than merely trotting out their best-remembered A-Level English texts. The Pensive Federation thrive on challenge, never content to do things the easy way and reinvigorating the fringe circuit with plenty of new ideas. If that's not enough to make them the object of your affection, I don't know what is.

Significant Other Festival 2015: Object of Affection opened on 16th March and runs until 21st March 2015 at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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