Gaining momentum the past 12 months as one of south London’s important new writing nights, FreeRayne Artists’ Spiral evening recently ran for three nights at the Bread & Roses Theatre. With topics as wide-ranging as ‘manufactured pop stars’ to savoury muffins, this month’s Spiral covers a number of serious and light-hearted topics.
Written by Colette Lewis and directed by Leanne Pettit, Bad Girls Productions focuses on Izzy (Stephanie Manton) a 15-year-old girl and her doting mother Jo (Philippa Robson) who travel from Hull to London to meet enigmatic producer Nathan (Malcom Jeffries). Rather than be ostentatious and verbose as you might expect a producer to be, Nathan is very passive, letting the mother and daughter do most of the talking. But nothing in life is free, and mother and daughter must decide whether all the training that’s needed to make the ‘dream’ come true is worth all their time … and money. The question is, do we feel sorry for the mother and daughter by the end, knowing that this is a situation they are walking into with their eyes wide open…?
Staying on the subjects of teenage girls, Children of the Cleaved Forest (written by Tony Hickson, directed by Olivia Rose) delves into the lengths of what they’re capable of when they’re involved with gangs. Jojo (Milly Dunk) and Ozzy (Rosie Akerman) want to join the gang of Davina (Angeline Hunt). However, she has her own initiation rites, ways of testing their allegiance. On this occasion, this involves Freddie (Stephanie Manton) a disabled girl… Asides from highlighting the extremes that teenagers (and people in general) are tempted to do to ‘fit in’, the piece hints at Davina’s own demons that drive her to behave as she does. Certainly made for disquieting viewing.
In contrast to these more serious narratives, the other short plays in the first hour were very funny, albeit behind their humour they made serious points about human relationships. In Walk On (written by Jack Stacey, directed by Richard Elson), we meet Alice (Rachael Verkuil) after a night out. Initially showing the end of her date during its final, awkward moments, the event is then shown from the very beginning. The twist in the tale is that having seen the previous events, the end of the date takes on a completely different meaning… As ‘Alice’s friend’ Leanne Pettit is the perfect comic foil to Verkuil’s over-anxious Alice. The banter Alice shares with her date Ben (Teddy Robson) is natural, with neither part short of wit or things to say. “Until next time..” hangs in the air. But will there be one..?
My favourite play inthe first half of Spiral was Less Than Three. Set in the office of a dating agency, client George (Mathias Swann) has an appointment with Dr June (Bethany Springall) for a ‘check up’ regards his latest match. Answering a number of questions about the ‘happiness’ of his present relationship (a few quibbles, but for the most part content) George is informed that an even better match has been found for him – 4% better! Initially stating he’s content with what his present relationship, Dr June wears him down with ‘facts’ (his new match more closely matches his ideal type) as well as flattery (he had 2,500 women on their books shown interest in him, plus the new match has paid over the odds to be with him)! Both actors are very good in their respective roles, with Swann particularly memorable as his facial expressions and his staccato dialogue paradoxically say so much about his conflicted desires. The point the play makes about fidelity being intractable until a more ‘suitable’ person comes along is particulary poignant, as is whether true happiness in relationships stems from being 100% alike or never having ‘ups and downs’.
The second half of the evening opened with Refuge (written by BJ Edwards, directed by Luke Ofield). Playing a random man and woman who are hiding in a hotel from gunfire, Omar Khan and Stephanie Pezolano deliver contrasting, engaging performances. While Pezolano’s character is understandably anxious, Khan’s is the other extreme, to the point of being almost comical. On the surface both have different coping strategies with dealing with the situation, but each helps the other with their anxieties. An interesting concept for a play.
Of the heavily dramatic pieces of the evening, Very Special Murderers (which was written by Frances Bushe and directed by Christiana Ebohon-Green) resonated with me the most. The piece begins with Mary (Rachel Fenwick) tracking down Sean (Jack Cronis) – her ex-boyfriend. Except when they were going out together, he was called ‘Paul’. This was a time before he had fathered a child with Mary… had killed someone… sentenced to prison and been relocated with a change of identity… The question is, will Mary tell ‘Sean’s’ wife Dawn (Rebecca Simpson) about his past? Doesn’t she have a right to know? In recent years, the ‘right to disappear’ has dominated the ethics of cyberspace and in the example of high-profile cases such as the young offenders involved in the death of the infant Jamie Bolger, giving perpetrators the chance to start over has been debated. Does justice mean those who have committed the worst crimes are not allowed to be forgotten and move on? In any case Very Special Murderers is an intriguing piece, which works as an intimate drama about former relationships, as well as a commentary on ethics in a social context.
Closing the evening, Fairy Wings (written by Alice Etches and Anna Goodman, directed by Georgina Thomas) brought some most-welcome laughs. Having a had a REALLY bad morning, Naomi, replete with fairy costume (and a dark cake stain on her derrière!) joins her friend Agnes at a coffee shop. Things start to unravel when Naomi realises she’s left her purse at the kids party she’s absconded from – and Agnes realises she’s purseless too. What can they do? Their branstorming session on to how to avoid paying is very amusing, with the texture of a savoury muffin seriously considered as grounds for non-payment! As the tense, more hyperverbal of the two, Etches’ Naomi has the lion’s share of the witty lines, while the laughter from Goodman’s Agnes stems from coping with her friend’s mania and making a good impression with the waiter she’s secretly liked for ages (which all seems doomed now)! I look forward to seeing Goodman and Etches produce more of their own material in the future.
© Michael Davis 2017
Spiral ran at the Bread & Roses Theatre from 12th-14th March 2017.