views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Claire Dowie & Martin Stewart - Unboxed
Etcetera Theatre
22nd August 2015


Martin Stewart and Claire Dowie

Photography provided by Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre

Nobody puts Baby in the corner, and nobody puts Claire Dowie and Martin Stewart in the box. Both are storytellers, with Unboxed an hour-long eclectic mix of songs and monologues in which they craft some very different characters and share them with us, both with an inimitable style.

First up, Claire Dowie performs You and Whose Army and Welsh Rabbit, which are more spoken word than songs. Taken from her novel Creating Chaos, she delivers both against angry, trippy, 60s tracks, with plenty of energy. Dowie's frenetic, sweeping, carefree movement rivals dad-dancing, but there's something impressive about someone who dances on stage like no one's watching. There's a clear confidence and anarchic intention in all that Dowie says and does, although she does admittedly fluff her lines a few times.

In her monologue Random Subject, Dowie parodies bus-pass carrying pensioners and social media fans, taking on the voice of an OAP who randomly rummages through others' wheelie bins and sends them mildly menacing cakes. Her delivery here is excellent, pausing and staring at us at all the right moments with crazy eyes, and ramping up the humour. Her second monologue Arsehammers! is less sophisticated, but deliberately so, told from the perspective of a child. There's something endearing about a child who automatically believes if it's something her grandfather has, well, it must be awesome. Episodes of memory loss and wandering off are explained away with the Arsehammers used to magically transport her grandfather to random places at his command. Hearing about a man's mental decline second-hand from someone who truly doesn't understand what's going on is horribly bleak, however Dowie manages to inject humour into this tale.

With Dowie's four varied pieces complete, Stewart finally takes the stage. As he stands in front of us, bemoaning his fall from grace from an Oxford-based chemist to a lowly school teacher to more recently, plain unemployed, he does so with such bitterness and earnestness that you could believe he wasn't acting. It helps that he follows rather than precedes Dowie; she is herself, reading extracts from her own novel, and this leaves you with a tiny seed of doubt as to whether Stewart is speaking with his own words, or with those of a character. In fact, he's so credible, it feels a little uncomfortable.

The man babbling to us however I can reveal is Peter. Just like Doctor Goodfellow in last year's Demetrius Unchained, Stewart is taking on the role of a sightly strange man of science. Unlike Stewart, Peter has no stage experience, and rattles off a list of tips he's been given to try out, before launching into the story of how he came to be discredited by his peers. Ultimately, whilst Stewart is extremely convincing, and the deliberate lack of coherency suits the protagonist, the story doesn't have enough substance to it to sustain a full half hour. It's the content in Peter and the Actinoids rather than the delivery that needs beefing up.

Unboxed is nothing if not unusual and a little bit weird. Both of which are things that we like. Just like Pandora, sheer curiosity will prompt you to open up this show and see what's inside for yourself.

Claire Dowie & Martin Stewart - Unboxed ran from 15th to 16th August, then opened on 21st August and runs until 23rd August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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