Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coalition at Theatre 503 (Yellow Programme)

The gulf between concept and excution can sometimes be a wide one. For Theatre 503’s Coalition season, ten playwrights have been paired with ten artists: musicians, illustrators, choreographers and, in one case, a puppeteer, to create ten short pieces intended as a response to the incoming government.

The resulting pieces have been split into two programmes (labelled, for obvious reasons, ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’). I saw the yellow programme therby missing Gordon Brown’s whistle-stop visit to the Battersea theatre to catch his speech writer Kirsty McNeill’s Dexterity, part of the blue programme. 

Perhaps inevitably given the format the quality varied - some of the pieces felt bitty and repetitious while others were more intriguing and better developed. Two of them, the vaguely Orwellian We Are Where We Are by Telegraphtheatre critic Dominic Cavendish and comedy troupe Clever Peter and Shotgun Civil Partnership in the Rose Garden by Lola Stephenson and supplemented by songs from cabaret duo Bourgeois and Maurice, felt more like skits than short plays; though enthusiastically performed they were both drawn out beyond their natural end point. In the former a benefits claimant is interoggated by two suited men (one yellow-tied, the other blue-tied) who are keen to reclassify him; it ends in a darkly absurdist place but takes a long while to get there. In the latter piece a gardner forms an uneasy alliance with the shotgun-wielding man who wants to rob his wealthy employer. Their plotting was repeatedly interrupted by the woman in question, clad in evening dress and feather boa, but while her musical interjections are initially amusing, they reap diminishing returns. Both pieces felt blunt in tone and heavy-handed in execution.

More interesting was Of the Willing, the collaboration between Rex Obano (whose promising play Slaves was staged at Theatre 503 earlier this year) and choreographer Mina Aidoo. This felt more like more thought had been put into the idea of artistic cooperation and better demonstatred the creative potential of such collisions. The resulting dance piece was set in part to a twitter feed concerning tuition fees and voiced in a robotic monologue, the dancers combining juvenile arse waggling with frustrated writhing. It was more eloquent while using less words.

The last two plays on the bill were more satisfyingly rounded. Ben Ockrent’s funny and poignant Bedrooms, Dens and other Forms of Magic, the least overtly political playlet, is a tale of two teenagers: Tilly is cocky and rebellious and Neil is nervy and easy to overlook. Susie Hogarth’s illustrations are charming if not as fully integrated into the piece as they could be. Ockrent manages to shape the characters and their relationship - they were friends as younger children but have drifted apart –and say something about the way ones ideals and allegiances shift as one gets older.

The most striking piece of the night was Ella Hickson’s PMQ, which cut to the quick, envisioning David Cameron (a diginified Richard Lintern), preparing himself for his first Prime Minister’s Questions, his confidence repeatedly undercut by a guitar-toting Gwendolen Chatfield, singing the lyrics to Mumford and Sons' Little Lion Man while impishly informing him he has a stain on his trousers and reminding him that some questions are unanswerable. It’s a direct piece, simultaneously brazen yet compassionate, which brushes aside the sniping and swiping to examine Cameron as a man, ambitious, self-assured yet fallible, human - a man who has lost things. Hickson, as her plays Hot Mess and Precious Little Talent, showed is an exciting writer, keen to stretch herself to knew places and in this short piece she does just that, bucking against the black and white, creating something shaded.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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