This Thursday gone I took my first trip of the year to Theatre 503. Their current show is a thing called Mad Funny Just, a devised piece being staged as part of the Old Vic, New Voices award scheme.
The story it tells is a not an original one. A girl is dead and her brother, friends and teachers attempt to come to terms with it. Plot-wise that’s about it, but it’s lifted off in unexpected directions by the manner of its staging. The dark and poky studio space above the Latchmere pub has been made over to resemble a rehearsal room, complete with kettle and pack of chocolate biscuits in the corner. Props are kept to a minimum, ditto costumes, and the telling of the tale is left to the performances, all of which are nuanced and well-observed.
Shifting rapidly between characters, the five actors – who along with the director of the piece, Sarah Tipple, are part of a collective called Creased – bring to life the world of Louise, the dead girl in question. The cast are particularly adept at the adolescent mannerisms of her friends and Becci Gemmell in particular is superb as a nervy and quivery voiced old lady who finds herself reinvigorated after a trip to the hairdresser.
More a collection of character sketches than a play proper, not everything it attempts works – there were too many heavy-handed fantasy sequences for my liking – but, despite that, this is an exciting and energetic piece, exuding potential and invention. The story it tells may not be particularly original and the method of its staging leaves little room for the characters to grow. But in terms of performance and sheer creativity, it’s a delight. And did I say there was no set to speak of? Well, that’s not quite true. The production has a sweet little surprise saved for its closing minutes, but to say more would spoil it.
It seems that the theatre gods were really smiling on me last week as, as well as seeing this, I managed to miss out on seeing An Audience With The Mafia at the Apollo when technical difficulties caused the performance I was down to attend to be cancelled. Having since read the reviews, I realise what a lucky escape I had.