Beginners ACT ll

As the increasingly corporatised Edinburgh Festival Fringe with polished productions involving producers, dramaturgs, intimacy directors, mental health and diversity consultants, therapists, mentors and goodness knows how many other variations on the theme of costly non-performing advisers, it’s refreshing to sit through an event watching the sort of stuff that Fringes used to be made of.

ACT II Festival claims to be London's biggest student theatre festival and this second season consists of 78 young people from across 25 drama schools, universities, and further education courses in 12 mini-plays, each of around twenty minutes. The actors are any young person, 18-30, while the directors and playwrights are all current students or graduates. Individuals from the last two groups are paired up and the casts are put together from the other applicants. For performance purposes, they are placed into one of three quadruple bills with time slots at 1300,1600 and 1900. This makes for a drama festival atmosphere which takes place on two consecutive Saturdays. Artistic Director, Amy Tickner says, “Through the ACT II industry workshops we have been lucky to partner with exceptional theatre makers like Itch & Scratch, Awkward Productions, Fourth Monkey and OPIA Collective”. The event is hosted by The Space on the Isle of Dogs, a venue that does so much to encourage new theatre and young people who are looking to make careers in the industry.

Festival Leaders Jodie Braddick, Gabriele Osella and Caterina McNellis facilitate the presentation of the productions and maximise the opportunities for participants to see the work of others, socialise and develop the critical skill of networking. Both Festival days are supported by the young Production Team: Cat Hervieu (Production Leader), Conor Costello (Lighting), Peija Hu (Sound), Thiya Kasiviswanathan (Stage Manager), and Tan Yin Qi (Stage Manager).

As Tickner points out, “ACT II is, bridging the gap between London student theatre and industry; bringing the industry to young people so they do not have to seek it out or navigate it by themselves; offering training, workshop, performance, and mentoring opportunities throughout the year; developing new and exciting ways to create connections, collaborations, and events that bring industry professionals, London's fringe venues, and our young people together”.

This is not just a one-off event for the participants but an introduction to their futures. She goes on to say, “Those that are selected to take part in ACT II Festival have access to mentorship, ACT II Skills Workshops, and industry-led workshops. They are invited to develop their theatre-making skills and work with young people who they wouldn't have met outside of ACT II. Every ACT II Festival participant has feedback on their final performances and becomes a part of the ACT II network with access to news, opportunities, and invitations”.

The productions are a mixed bag of works-in-progress at plays at various stages of development. The standard of work varies considerably from one production to another; from the raw to the refined; from the experimental exploration of ideas to the more tightly rehearsed scripts. What they have in common is passion, commitment and fearless creative energy. These are not works in their final form or highly polished productions but the seeds of plays that will emerge from being given the opportunity to try out material in public.

What follows is a summary of the pieces in the three groups in which they were performed. The aim here is to indicate the variety and breadth of the material on show and to credit the creatives involved.

Group One

The Startup, by Dhanush Giridhar. Directed by Dominika Ucar.

International student, A, is approaching graduation. To remain in the UK once their course finishes, they decide to enter a startup competition in the hope of gaining a business visa. We listen to pitches and also the one-upmanship conversation that takes place between the three who are vying for the prize. This gives a taste of the cut and thrust of business life that awaits them. Once the result is announced, one of them can revel in the joy of success while the others have to deal with defeat and the loss of a boost to their careers.

Cast: Caroline Letelier, Lauren Owen, Olivia Steele, Brooke Agius

The sands of perpetual longing and mutual dissatisfaction, by Sunny Cheong. Directed by Peter Smart.

This play wins the prize for the longest title of the day and features Robin and Spencer who are on holiday, in the form of a desert expedition that combines elements of Indiana Jones, Aladdin and even Dora the Explorer (so we are told in the programme notes). Their conversation takes place after being robbed and they find themselves without phones, passports, wallets and necessaries. Despite having been together for four years the underlying strains in their relationship surface as they continue their walk in the hope of being rescued.They are stranded and have no choice but to just keep walking in the hope that they find civilization or are rescued before the sands of time overtake them.

Cast: Madelyn Morgan, Louisa Naiyera, Caterina Siano.

Breathe, by Laure Bacchiocchi. Directed by Jasmine Silk.

This rape story is set in the context of being trapped in what they refer to as the ‘hyper-sexualisation of our society’. When everyone is always talking about sex, why is it so difficult to confront your rapist and talk to others about your ordeal? The twist in this play is the choice of ending that we are invited to vote for before the action concludes.

Cast: Roxanne Delreux, Elena Lushaku, Hermela Michael.

Lavender, by Isaac Banjoko. Directed by Demir Timuray.

Taking us back to the nineteenth century this play explores the marriage of convenience that was embraced from that time onwards to conceal the socially stigmatised sexual orientation of one or both partners. The stern parents of the young man in question invite the bride-to-be and her parents to a dinner party. Left alone, the young couple slowly unravel their secrets, insecurities and emotions, revealing further surprises and the complexity of their situation.

Cast: Jemica Taylor, Cleo Donnais, Mia O'Gorman, Joe Devitt, Thomas Lafferty, Rubayet Al Sharif.

Group Two

The Other Side, by Chloe Moore. Directed by Lenard Kelemen.

This play switches between the past and present, exploring the relationship between two girls, Freya, and Evelyn in the summer before they both go to university together and the impact of a major incident that results in Evelyn watching her girlfriend, Freya, die in front of her and opens up a tragedy.

Cast: Andy MacKinnon, Tilly Woof, Benjamin Sumrie, Sonya Stonelake.

Bliss Cafe, by Younes Dine. Directed by Sam Smith.

Dan’s a construction worker by day and a fosters drinker by night. Hussein’s a prudish biologist who wants grandkids. When their daughters announce their engagement, these soon-to-be brothers-in-law take to their local greasy spoon to plan an intervention. Safe to say their conservative views and bigoted quips don’t land with the underpaid and underappreciated waitresses on shift. Bliss Café speaks of the differences that arise when generations collide. How should certain situations be handled? Can we ever change people's opinions? And fundamentally, what do you care about more than your family’s happiness?

Cast: Charlotte Diep, Che Stone Edwards, Caroline Letelier, Felizia Liehmann, Zack Tindall, Courtney Macdonald.

While The World Goes Under, by Rosie Pierce. Directed by Anya Anderson Birch.

The world is falling apart. It’s going under. But A and B don’t run. They don’t hide. Do not try to get to high ground. They stay put. Because their world started to collapse before the floods even started. The leaks and cracks were there before the rain. Under the surface, in the walls. And then everything starts to fall apart at once in a night of heavy rain and heavy drinking.

Cast: Elly Wilson and Charlotte Kindred

The Art of Doing Nothing, by Reshmi Mohan. Directed by Maisie Allen.

Reena’s life changes in the space of 48 hours from when she discovered a lump to being told she doesn't have breast cancer. In that short space of time she had envisioned a beautiful life of reckless living under the guise of the numbered days she would have left. Now, she is extremely disappointed and also aware that her reaction is not normal. This a story of finding a place in a world where everyone is trying to leave their mark in one way or the other.

Cast: Leah Omonya.

Group Three

New Horizons, by Supravo Rahman. Directed by Annalena Lipinski.

Tania, Rebecca, and Nashira are three sisters who have grown up abroad. After their father goes missing, their mother moves them all back to their home village. The sisters have trouble adjusting, but bond with Sahil, their neighbour and the son of their mother and childhood friend. But what is it like living with ghosts?

Cast: Ahmed Aami, Simran Oodit, Tahsinah Akther, Misha Domadia, Eleanor Wingfield, Cameron Sinclair Harris.

Queer Switch, by Santiago Guerra. Directed by Mya Onwugbonu.

Two men are trapped in an escape room with only one way out. Rodrigo and Clive must learn to understand each other, put their differences aside, and find a common ground. This is the only way out of the escape room.

Cast: Aymeric Etogo, Yusuf Naya, Lilly Walker.

Strangers, by Nell Rayner. Directed by Lucy Millett.

The city is incredible. Everything you could ever want right there in front of you. 24 hours a day. Seven days a week. Right? Almost. But what does it really mean to be in a world of constant motion and with everything passing by? Is there any meaning in uncomfortable small talk and accidental eye contact and how is it possible to connect in such a world?

Cast: Meghan Mabli, Jennah Finnegan, Maria-Vittoria Albertini Petroni, Eve Wilson.

Woman. Life. Freedom., by Tarah McDermott. Directed by Clara Janssen.

Meera Aziz, a 27-year-old teacher from London, decides to take off her hijab after being inspired by the current protests in Iran. She is shocked by the reactions from her students, her husband and her family. What she thought was just her decision seems to be something in which everyone wants a say. Does she change her decision or will their challenges make her more determined to make a stand?

Cast: Alicia Fernandes Hamid, Kilty Zain, Jake Bickford, Bushra Baig, Jannat Simran.

If being part of ACT II appeals to you there is an outstanding opportunity on the horizon this August with the development of the company’s first in-house production, Neverland, which will be performed at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, as part of Camden Fringe 2023. Ten young people are required to create and deliver this exciting new production. Further details of this, the successful 10-week Theatre-Making training program, Young Facilitator program and the meet-ups for under-represented young creatives can be found on the website. Looking further ahead opportunities will also be plentiful in ACT II Festival 2024.

Act II Website

Act II Festival Booking

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