Palimpsest One is a bit of an odd beast. An 'exploration of the one-act play', it feels more like an experimental theatre night or a student showcase than a single production. And, with no single thread (apart from their length) to connect the four plays, an overall impression is difficult to form.
The first work on display was ‘The Stronger’, a period French depiction of a tense discussion between a wife and the other woman. Now, I'm man enough to admit that I didn't know this was a Strindberg piece when I saw it and to let that piece of information change my impression would be insincere. I'll just say then that, while I thought the conceit of a one-sided dialogue was intriguing, it felt like a thankless task for Emilija Ellen as the silent Miss Y, relegated to enforced muteness even when this left unnatural spaces in the performance. Minna Pang got a much better deal as Mrs X, a glassy veneer of social nicety barely containing the anger within.
The Stronger was followed by an excerpt from a Medea pastiche by Mima Vulovic which I can't say ever sat well with me. An exploration of the light and dark sides of pregnancy and childbirth, its overly-poetic language was grandiose but, ultimately, a little empty of substance. Even some clever staging and impressively committed and physical performances by the actors involved couldn't prevent this excerpt feeling, like childbirth, a painful, drawn-out affair.
Things looked up for me with Afsaneh Gray’s ‘The Beekeeper's Wife’ which was the first of the night to deliver a real sense of interaction between characters. It also satisfied a lot of my criteria for short form drama; intriguing context, thoughtful subject matter and interesting performances, particularly Claire Radcliffe's wonderfully pixieish turn.
Ross Howard’s ‘Frisky and the Panda’ was the final piece of the night and, in a strange way, mirrored the first, being a multi-performer piece with only one real speaking part. However, in this twisted tale of a panda keeper, the physicality of Billie Vee’s mostly-silent role as Frisky was enough to hold audience interest, making the few lines she did have a pleasant surprise rather than a welcome relief. For the rest, Kevin Hand’s Doctor Ogden was all the awkward buffoon you could want; engaging and surprisingly complex.
As a platform for the actors to show their wares, ‘Palimpsest One’ works to varying degrees. The work is a mixed bag, the performances similarly variable. As an 'exploration' it didn't really uncover anything amazingly new for me but, as evening out, diverse and interesting.