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Significant Other Festival 2016: Plus One
Tristan Bates Theatre
29th February 2016


Promotional image for Significant Other Festival 2016: Plus One

Photography provided by the Pensive Federation

Ten days, ten plays. When it comes to new writing, it's hard to find fresher material than the Pensive Federation's work. The Significant Other Festival always explores the most intimate of human relationships but new for 2016, the company and its collaborating artists have added a third wheel. Plus One is a celebration of three-handers with the titles for each hinting at the extra actor this year. The third deadly sin, the third television channel, third season... It's all a bit deliberately vague and the connection linking the plays together is not always easy to figure out. Roast Beef, anyone? No, me neither.

The evening gets off to a cracking start with opening play Gluttony. Lizzie (Zoe Lambrakis) is waiting for old friend Emma (Sarah Leigh) to finish getting ready for their big night out, when she unexpectedly excuses herself and introduces her stand in, a professional "Best Bud" (Leanne Everitt). Platonic friendships can sometimes be as important as romantic relationships (a point the company has taken great pains to stress over the years), and if you can hire a gigolo, why not a bessie mate? Emma certainly thinks it's a grand idea, and it allows for plenty of comedy in Julia Burrow's short script, with spot on comic timing from director Jessica McKenna. The amount of time we spend with Lizzie feels well-judged - out of all the plays in the festival, this one has the greatest sense of completeness.

Annie (Annie Jackson) and Tammy (Tamara Camacho) also explore the concept of a significant other in the context of an inseparable friendship in Olivia Gawn's Gamma. Annie's stepbrother Alex (Jared Rogers) is visiting in an attempt to forge some kind of connection; however Annie can't separate Alex from the breakdown of her parents' marriage. Cue awkward interactions and what I have to say is my favourite recurring prop that the Pensive Federation have ever introduced into their work. Beds and metal lunch boxes have nothing on this, trust me.

If only psychologist Olivia (Sadie Clark) was around to help with the tension. In Barry Dunstall's The Last Crusade, she's tied up trying to rent a room from odd couple Penelope (Joanna Reyes) and Danny (John Rayment). Whilst all three actors put in a solid performance, the main plot device feels contrived. A bit of help from Graham Broad's infamous "doof-doof" mitigates this somewhat; however the writing isn't as strong as some of the other pieces.

The next performance, Tom Powell's Autumn, explores the clingy partner problem. As we watch a girlfriend (Sophie Mercell) persuading her other half (Rachel Agustsson) not to go on a cycling trip, we are privy to the type of conversations that only take place behind closed doors (although it's not like Mercell's character goes out much anyway). As you'd expect in this festival, it takes the arrival of an outsider with a few home truths to shake things up. When a work colleague (Katherine Rodden) arrive to collect Mercell for the bike ride, awkward conversations and humour abound. This interesting piece touches on a range of issues including depression, attachment styles, and why we really love someone. It also teaches you how to do an ostrich impression. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a moment of bonding and self-discovery aided by ostriches.

With relationships at the forefront of the storytelling, it's inevitable that children crop up at some point. Charlotte (Jessica Aquilina) and Robert (Adam Buchannan) are having a baby thanks to Robert's old friend Madeleine (Hannah McClean), who's acting as their surrogate. Although Paddy Cooper's Puppy Dog Tails has a promising start and some deliciously black humour, the end falls flat. McClean does cold and callous brilliantly, delivering some funny but horribly cruel one-liners. There's a lot to like about the initial characterisation brought out by director Anthony Cozens with McClean the clear star of this piece.

It wouldn't be a Significant Other production without an obligatory and slightly random musical. This time it's Good Things/Bad Things, written by Oliver Selby with music by Lemon Otter and Franner Otter. Director Neil J Byden has a lot of fun with this, acknowledging the ridiculous cheesiness of the premise in the classic dance moves and dopey grins exchanged between our hapless protagonist (Roger Dipper) and his attractive housemate Sarah (Lydia Shaw). Antonia Bourdillon is a wonderful plus one as Jenna, the man's existing girlfriend. Like any musical you have to suspend all concept of reality to enjoy it, and whilst it's thoroughly entertaining, there are parts where Bourdillon, Dipper and Shaw sing over each other and some of the lyrics are lost. A shame, because we no doubt miss out on another gag or two.

In Jonathan Edginton's ITV, would-be onsie-wearing culture vulture Courtenay (Maddy Moore) is fed up with Loose Women and wants to explore more intellectual and artsy programmes. Best friend Veronica (Helen Jessica Liggat) has no interest in BBC 4, but thankfully Courtenay's bagged herself a free robot called Carlos (Steven Mills) who can fill the gap. Director Lucy Curtis gives Carlos stilted movements and gestures to contrast against his very human appearance, however doesn't make Mills play this overly hammily. Like Gluttony, this vignette about upgrading friends creates plenty of laughs.

A woman (Tara Dowd) is getting ready to go home with her girlfriend (Zoe Mills) in Anne-Sophie Marie's Strikes after what we assume to be some kind of rehab stay. Her suspicion of the staff member looking after her (Rhiannon Story) prompts a rambling dissection of their relationship, which rapidly loses energy. Whilst all three actors give very earnest and sincere performances, Strikes just doesn't have the same hook as some of the other short plays.

Dance partners (Rowena Bentley and Luke Lampard) find themselves at the mercy of an unhelpful salon manager (Ben Carpenter) in Elizabeth Adlington's Bronze. Although there may be an age gap between the duo, the chemistry between the Strictly aficionados is sweet if predictable, with director Kasia Rozycki eliciting a humorous and touchingly sincere performance out of Bentley and Lampard. There's some dancing of the literal and metaphorical kind and Bronze certainly attains a far higher level of success than its title suggests. Like Gluttony, it meets the brief perfectly and stands on its own as a self-contained little vignette.

Rounding the festival off, aspiring journalist Laura (Kim Burnett) is plagued by personified feelings of self-doubt (Karl Sedgewick). She may have to write clickbait to make ends meet, but performing arts boyfriend (Alex Dowling) is working on a sock puppet masterpiece. In Jasmine Jones' Roast Beef, which one of them has it worse off? It may be slow to start with, however the conclusion has us in stitches. Burnett always excels at comedic roles, and her two leading men do a fine job in keeping up with her.

Plus One is certainly the most ambitious production that the Pensive Federation have staged in recent memory. Given the many self-imposed constraints on their work, it never fails to amaze me that the company manage to produce anything at all, and it's always an honour to watch so much raw talent in one space. A bit more polish and never mind bronze, the Pensive Federation have a golden future ahead of them. As ever, keep an eye out for the cast and crew from The Significant Other - the contributors often go on to stage some of the most interesting off-West End pieces in the months that follow.

Significant Other Festival 2016: Plus One opened on 29th February and runs until 5th March 2016 at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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