Plug-In, Canal Cafe Theatre – Review

Taking place at the Canal Cafe Theate in west London, Plug-In’s third event showcases 12 up-and-coming actors, who perform pieces of a comedic or dramatic bent. Hosting the evening as always is the loquacious Julia Strassman. All based on dating in some form or other, the first three performances of the evening have a darkly comic patina to the writing. First actor of the evening: Leonie Carpenter.

‘Kate’ is getting over a break-up. Still feeling ‘raw’ about the relationship, she ruminates about her options and ‘who’ or rather ‘what’ would make a good replacement… Taking inspiration from Irina Dunn’s famous slogan, Carpenter’s funny monologue adapts the well-known adage to accommodate the most loyal and non-judgmental constant in life: ‘cake’…

L-R: Leonie Carpenter, Nicole Burns and Jenny Cvetoshenko

Nicole Burns’ monologue, in contrast, deals with a woman on a ‘date from hell’ and her  ‘alone time’ when she visits the ‘ladies restroom’ in a restaurant. Initially, we get the impression that her date is ‘needy’, having walked with her to the ‘ladies’. However, ‘mid-rant’, Burns’ character realises that she’s not alone and that the woman who is there has a terminal illness. But rather than demonstrating empathy, Burns’ character looks at the woman’s circumstances and thinks her as extremely ‘lucky’. This woman is married! Before she was 30! Her illness has made her thinner/‘better looking’ than me..! Burns has fun playing up the awkward/borderline sociopathic qualities of her character, and very much cut from the same cloth as Julia Davis’ ‘Jill Tyrrell’ in Nighty Night and Charlize Theron’s ‘Mavis Gary’ in Young Adult.

Speaking of ‘celebs’, Jenny Cvetoshenko for her own spot performs Amy Schuler’s I’m Not Shallow routine. Playing up to the caricature of a woman solely interested in a person’s wealth, Cvetoshenko’s character declares she isn’t superficial, or cares about a person’s looks. Of course everything’s that’s said confirms the absence of genuine feelings for the boyfriend, leaving the audience to decide whether the character has no self-awareness or simply ‘amoral’. Be that as it may, Cvetoshenko’s delivery brings out the humour of what’s said and – perhaps more importantly – made the famous monologue ‘her own’.

L-R: Lauren Potter, Laura Jade Clark and Olivia D’Lima

Speculating on her looks and how her ‘pulling power’ would have changed for the better if she had a “peachy butt”, Lauren Potter’s amusing monologue examines the criteria for ‘app dating’. Ranging from her posterior to her complexion, there is room for improvement everywhere, which would give her the opportunity to ‘trade up’… In contrast, Eimear Lacey plays a person who supposedly can’t think of anything to say, but in reality is erudite and able to speak at tangents in any given moment.

Laura Jade Clark’s ‘Tiggy’ bubbles with excitement, as she gives a talk on that most resilient of vegetation – cactus. Dressed in conservative attire and addressing what appears to be the Women’s Institute, Clarke channels her inner ‘Victoria Wood’ as she effusively champions nature’s most robust plant.

Wedding receptions have long been fertile ground for comedic faux pas and in Olivia D’Lima spot, we see the ‘boundaries’ of friendship. ‘Becky’ (D’Lima) toasts her childhood friend Anna who’s just got married. But as Becky relays how close they once were and how much time they spent together, we realise that their ‘relationship’ was perhaps one-sided with Becky’s interest bordering on the obsessive… A very funny monologue that through D’Lima’s deft performance, subtly reveals the extent of Becky’s monomania.

L-R: Francesca Hess and Camila Segal

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s provocative play The Wasp addresses a school bully and victim meeting in adulthood. Francesca Hess boldly performs one of the most harrowing scenes, when Heather is surrounded by a gang of girls, leading to a number of unconscionable acts… Hess’ use of body language and mastery of inflection is spot on – instinctively knowing when ‘less is more’ and conveying the horrors of Heather’s ordeal. As this was the only ‘dead serious’ monologue of the evening, it stood out from the other comedic or tragic-comic monologues that were performed. But even if there were other dramatic entries, Hess’ performance would undoubtedly be a highlight of the evening.

The tension between feeling angry and not letting it show is an interesting conundrum for any actor to convey. In Camila Segal’s monologue, we meet a young woman who finds herself ‘forgotten’ about and left out (‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’). Originally meant to go to a gig with a friend, they and someone else she knows have hit it off, with the other person taking her place. But she’s not angry… Segal labours her point about being happy to spend time at home with the ‘grey’ table and her ‘grey’ existence. Of course we see in her face that her expresssion and words don’t match, and what’s said in ‘jest’ doesn’t sound ‘funny’ at all…

L-R: Ellen Lilley, Alanah Rodger and Grace Lewis

Proof that women are just as capable as men of doing ‘stand-up’ comedy, Ellen Lilley is able to laugh at herself and the general perception about Geordies, before casting her gaze on more ‘serious’ fayre. Lilley instantly builds a rapport with the audience, never afraid to own up to a stereotype before moving on. A large part of what makes Lilley’s act so memorable is that a lot of it draws from her own experience as actor, especially as someone who doesn’t naturally speak in RP, nor ‘fits in’ back home or in London. Without being didactic, she also raises the subject of the constant pressure on women in showbusiness to keep weight off. Even when women are slim, comments are often made that insinuate not enough effort has been ‘to reach the desired goal’. How Lilley gets from this to something on the surface that’s unrelated (but actually encapsulates her point) is where her artistry shows.

The penultimate act of the evening, Alanah Rodger takes a light-hearted look at being available for love and the lengths that someone would go to. Rodger’s character attends a ‘traffic lights’ party that lets others know how ‘available’ she is. Even without knowing her ‘green’ status, it’s easy to ascertain the character’s mindset by hearing how malleable her interests are, able to conform to whoever she might be talking to…

Closing the evening, Grace Lewis looks at the quintessential British pastime – queueing – and the ‘joys’ of waiting in airports. Initially the focus of Lewis’ tale is a man who is so involved with a book, that he leaves a gap in the queue (Tut tut!). However, after this ‘irritating’ faux pas, two models saddle next to him. It looks like he will fall for their charms and allow them to push in. But maybe, just maybe, this ‘Odysseus’ will resist the call of the ‘Sirens’ and find a way to outwit them… Both personable and layered, Lewis’ monologue is a Venn diagram of sorts, with the ‘mundane’ overlapping with literary references and at its centre, the challenging of gender expectations.

© Michael Davis 2018

Plug-In ran at Canal Cafe Theatre on 28th November.

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