Six Plays One Day is over for this year, but it provided a platform for productions in various stages of development to be performed in front of an audience and to receive feedback.
A day of intensive theatre
Taking over The Space on the Isle of Dogs, the day was perhaps more of a challenge for producer Stephen Smith, the tech team and any audience members who decide to attend the whole programme than it was for the actors. But it’s an event to which he is committed, especially as it is sponsored by his alma mater, The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA).
This is the showcase’s third year, following a two-year break during lockdown and the plays turned out ot be in various stages of readiness, even where they didn't admit to still being ‘a work in progress’. Given the more polished productions of previous years, that was something of a surprise, bearing in mind the amount of time people have had to prepare and rehearse works in the last couple of years. The nature of the day, however, is such that all pieces are welcomed and it's an opportunity to see where theatre-makers are going with their latest ideas.
Permanent Tenants by Louis Gale was promoted as ‘dealing with topical issues and exploring transition, friendship, modern love, identity and mental health;… a pitch black existential comedy, leaning more on the absurd, comedic and often anarchic elements of its premise without shying away from the important and heartfelt’. If it sounds like it’s trying to cover too much and be too many things to too many in the space of an hour, that was exactly how it came over. The cast read off-script, for a work that has been envisaged for TV, theatre and film. What it needs is a much sharper focus, probably a reduced cast to avoid some of the mayhem and a decision about which medium it’s intended for.
Calm was restored in the more pensive Chicken Pasta by Katie Read. On the surface, Kat (Katie Hamilton) and George (Jordan Lang) look like a standard fitness-obsessed young couple. Hamilton actually looks far too fit in relation to what she says about Kat’s attempts to keep up with George, but that’s just a detail. The story revolves around George who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer, ‘The Big C’. Still coming to terms with the fact that a healthy man in his late twenties who has done everything right in life can be diagnosed with such a condition, the play meanders its way through issues they would rather avoid than confront, with a background of moody songs and quite a few clichéd lines. It addresses an important issue but never really tackles it in depth in anything like a hard-hitting manner. Hence the attitude of pushing it to one side and making the simple decision to eat more chicken pasta.
Written and performed by Hannah Roze-Lewis and declared to be a work-in-progress, though far more polished than others, Ophelia is the beautifully told story of the eponymous sixteen-year-old girl’s search for identity. The blend of Shakespearean imagery and Cumbrian folklore, gives it both a literary and geographical location. Told with delicacy and measured timing, this is a delightful piece of solo theatre that delves into the troubled mind of a girl who feels out of place.
Unstitching by Ruby Shrimpton could not be more different. It’s a wild, frenetic piece ‘made up of yarn and lip-syncs …an existential comedy about self-expression and Eurovision’. Somewhere there is probably an audience for this. Self-deprecating remarks seem perfectly valid as the extrovert subject of this solo performance explains during an on-stage act how she wants to be seen and to express herself. She thought it would be easy but that turns out not to be the case. She runs the gamut of famous Song Contest hits, and failures, tests out some spoken word, tries cynical ranting and attempts some of the more well-known choreographic routines that have appeared in the annual extravaganza over the years. Her own show, meanwhile, slides into a chaotic, angst-ridden shouting game.
Writer/Performer Joseph Winder restores a sense of sanity with At Eternity’s Gate, despite being a show about the possibly less-than-stable Vincent Van Gogh. He plays Theo, the famous artist’s younger brother, in a reminiscence of the sacrifices he made, the love he bore and the grief he endured. Winder refers to the play’s writing style as autoethnographic; a medium that combines his love of history and poetry with empathy towards others by looking inwardly and reflecting upon one’s own family relationships. The result is an introspective, and sensitive delivery that is soothing and enchanting. However, there is perhaps an overly monotone delivery throughout that needs to be broken up to give a greater variety of moods and tones.
To conclude the day, writer, director and performer Rebecca Phythian was joined by Adam Martyn in Pill, a short autobiographical play that exposes what life can be like on the contraceptive pill and the many potential side effects from a first-hand experience. Through its episodic style and use of verbatim story-telling, Pill is a punchy and at times distressing message to women to take control of their bodies, demand answers and persistently confront doctors and sexual health professionals about what is happening to their bodies and mental health as a consequence of how they are dealt with.
Six Plays One Day should be back next year, courtesy of Stephen Smith, Threedumb Theatre and LIPA. It’s a format that perhaps others might look to take up. It certainly creates a festival atmosphere that could be likened to an eight-hour Fringe, providing an outlet for theatre groups and a day of intensive theatre for those who like to indulge themselves.