Works Ahead

Works Ahead from Word of Warning and Contact showcases four new works from developing artists. Split into two distinct pairs of performances, this afternoon/evening session very firmly asks the question: What is Theatre? As the boundaries blur, we see personal stories, stand up storytelling and cabaret/physical theatre.   Maybe not what you’d regard as traditional ‘theatre’, but compelling nonetheless.

The first two are personal stories.  I like the way that personal stories are working their way into theatre; they can illuminate areas that affect you, or make you think differently about an important topic.  For example recent shows by Ria Hartley, Cheryl Martin or Leo Burtin.

I saw an early version of Terri Donovan’s show Finding Elsie at Emergency and loved the show for its stillness, timing and honesty. I was afraid the development process would strip this away, but the opposite has happened.  It’s become more reflective, more intense, Terri’s story of her grandmother’s dementia at times cleverly broken by radio static and recorded excerpts of her family. A very personal and sensitive portrayal of how dementia, unspoken, affects everyone in the family.

Afreena Islam’s work Daughters of the Curry Revolution sets the audience around a table covered with a tapestry of her life – cigarettes, poppadoms, curry powder, coins and condiments. Telling a moving story of a Bangladeshi family at the forefront of the British curry revolution in the late 60s, there’s a fascinating dynamic between the characters Afreena creates – violence, family silences, financial success and disasters, and how everyone is treated differently; memories are both attributed and unreliable.

There was much more to connect the second two performances than might first appear.  They both make you think that anything could happen in the performance space.

Top Joe straddles stand up, storytelling, and performance art.  Verging on the nihilistic, with a penchant for setting fire to objects, Top Joe cuts the character of a loner, a night person, a person who doesn’t really care what people think of him.  His magic trick doesn’t work, and never could have.  His stories purposely lack focus.  But just underneath is a feeling that something else – actually anything else – could happen, and that’s what brings the energy to this performance.

Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat is pretty hard to define, somewhere between cabaret, dance and performance art.  There’s a central thread, but the pace swings violently from perfectly choreographed sections to candid personal anecdotes and sexually explicit reconstructions from the Bible.  But again it’s the feeling that anything could happen that brings the real energy to this show.

So we’re left with the question of what is theatre?  Of course all these performances are a form of theatre, especially as the boundaries increasingly blur.  And in a way it doesn’t matter.  If there’s an audience for the work, then it stands on its own merits.  Time and again we see that if a show is good enough, people will talk about it.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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