Saturday, January 17, 2015

'The One Festival: Programme B' at The Space, 16th January 2015


This was my second stab at visiting Programme B. Last Sunday evening I turned up at The Space Arts Centre, notebook in hand and an expectant look on my face. Opening the door I was greeted by silence and a completely empty theatre. Adam, the centre director popped his head around the corner and informed me that Sunday was a matinée and so I'd missed it. Oops. How embarrassing.  o tonight was Take 2. I'm glad I made the effort as this Programme had some of the most interesting stuff I'd seen at this festival thus far.

First on was Lost Boy Sketches, written and performed by FATLiPBMYTHICAL. In 1979 The Undertones sung "A teenage dream's so hard to beat"; a philosophy that this group has clutched to their bosom. This is a languid, stoner-tinged meander through fragmented memories. Split into three acts; we follow the teenage Blake through a romanticised, sunset adolescence. There's the first puffs on a joint, trying to buy beer when underage, first flirtations with girls, mix-tape heart-break and simile laden descriptions of the woozy experiences you get with a fuzzy headful of drugs and zero responsibilities.

FATLiPBMYTHICAL
These half-forgotten anecdotes are accompanied by semi-improvised electric guitar noodling that layers in extra layers of melancholy - like the imagined soundtrack of the movie of your life. Considering the slow pace, the lack of narrative direction and the humdrum nature of what we're being told it's a miracle that this never gets boring - settling for a Linklater style chattiness. While we're never on the edge of our seats we're quickly lulled into submission by the hypnotic vocal rhythms, guitar sounds and repressed emotion.

Thematically there's a thread right through the piece of searching for a 'true' identity. As this is a dissection of the teenage mind it's entirely appropriate; the character travelling across Europe, through various groups of people and through his own emotions as he struggles to construct a personality for himself. Like a growing snowball tumbling down a mountain, our narrator takes slices of other people, bits of alternapop culture and personal observations, then Frankensteins them together into a personality. It's an odd, deeply original piece of theatre that resists easy categorisation. I enjoyed it, my appreciation finally cemented by a sick yo-yo trick and the playing of eels' Susan's House at the end.

Kaye Conway
After the interval came Outbreak in the Library, written and performed by Kaye Conway. Opening with a slightly panicked "It wasn't my fault!", our stripey legging-ed narrator bounds on stage. She's an assistant librarian and suffering at work after a big night out. With just two hours sleep under her belt she's fuzzy and shambling. But not as much as the customers - for this is the tale of a library under assault from the zombie apocalypse.

This is teased, Shaun of the Dead style, by confused descriptions of swaying rabbles and people moaning they've been bitten. Confession time: as I quickly put the pieces together my heart sank. I really don't like zombie fiction; it's always felt like a socially acceptable way for people to vocalise their violent, misanthropic power fantasies without fear of being seen as a weirdo. Also they're way overexposed in pop culture these days. Fortunately Conway approaches the undead via irreverent farce, making them a lot easier to swallow.

Rather than chainsaws and shotguns her best weapons are her rubberface, gangly limbs and imagination. Like a human Stretch Armstrong she contorts her body through various characters, twisting her expressions in all kinds of strange ways and, best of all, using shadow puppets to recreate exciting action sequences. I'm also a sucker for cheesy one-liners, of which I can never get too much.

Jessica Blake
That was good, but something even better was soon to come: Trees Grow High. This piece, written and directed by Eleanor Conlon and performed by Jessica Blake, could be sensationally summarised as 'sympathy for the paedophile'. Blake is beautiful: her head crowned with a waterfall of tumbling blonde treses, her elfin face sparkling with personality and a body that oozes confident sexuality. Draped over a chair she sips at a glass of red wine coolly surveying the audience, her first words to us "I don't think you'll like me very much afterwards". Ooh! Mysterious...

What follows is a sincere evangelisation of the joys of having sex with fifteen year old boys. This woman is a teacher (of classics) and lusts for her young students. Beckoning with taloned finger she leads the hushed audience through an intensely screwed up moral argument that it's fine and dandy for her to fuck kids. The obvious (and stated) point is to expose hypocrisy in the audience: if this was a grown up listing the sensual pleasures of fifteen year schoolgirls it'd be retch-inducingly disgusting, but an attractive young woman? Well that shouldn't be a different story, but it is.

Faced with a liberal, arty audience, Blake uses sexuality and predatory body language to expose latent sexism and erotic awkwardness, toying with us like a cat with an injured mouse. This is seriously clever stuff, Blake and Conlon fearlessly heading into uncomfortable territory and making it her own. What's worse is that she all too effortlessly hypnotises us; a room of glassy-eyed people shifting in their seats as she carves apart her poison apple. When it finished nobody was quiet sure whether to clap or not - I was sat there an impressed grin on my face.  The closest I can compare it to are Chris Morris' monologues from Blue Jam - though with a touch less surrealism to it.  Without hesitation the best of all the seventeen monologues I've seen this year at the One Festival.

Steve Hay
I wouldn't have liked to follow that, but stepping up the plate was What I Do, by Daniel Davies, performed by Steve Hay. Told from the point of view of a homeless man named Dougie, he blows away the misconceptions that bubble up around the homeless. With a Glaswegian accent he explains the vagaries of vagrancy: how to get the best spot, where to shower, how to stay safe and what gangs control what areas. Key to the piece is the confrontational, faintly aggressive way he deals with the audience.

He treats us like effete, well-meaning hypocritical liberals who may toss a few pennies in the direction of the homeless but would largely prefer to look the other way. Which, let's face it, we are. Along the way he tweaks our noses by consciously playing into right-wing stereotypes; that he makes more than most of us do in our jobs, that he has a job available but prefers to live on the streets, that he has a girlfriend and that he consciously squanders his money on gambling. Hay erects an invisible barrier along the edge of the stage, reminding us that he and I live in the same city, but in different world.  Top stuff.

So, four programmes (A, C and D reviews here), seventeen monologues and a hell of a lot of cycling from central London out to the Isle of Dogs. It was definitely worth it, some of the finest bitesize drama I've seen in one place for a long time. Even better there was nothing that was truly bad, just the odd one that wasn't quite to my tastes.  Credit and applause to all involved; both performers and organisers.

The One Festival continues at The Space Arts Centre until the 18th of January. Lineup here.

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