Monday, August 31, 2015

'Summer Showers' at the Hope Theatre, 30th August 2015

Four plays, eighty minutes. Summer Sadness bills itself as the "ultimate 'scratch' performance": taking short, original works, rehearsing them for three days and then tossing them in front of a baying audience who're promptly pumped for criticisms. I've been to a number of these types of show, in my experience they're either really good or soul-crushingly bad. For the most part, Summer Showers, mercifully, is the former.

First up is Skyline, written by Paul Bottomley, performed by Katy Federman and Tom Vanson. Set on the 30th floor of some gleaming glass spire, we eavesdrop on a conversation between an MP and a property developer. Both gaze out onto London, the property developer seeing opportunities for regeneration (i.e. luxury flats) and the MP seeing a patchwork of memories, history and culture. The subsequent piece is a heated debate on architecture, ideology, sentimentalism and the psychogeography of London.

For my money, Skyline was absolutely infuriating. And I mean that as a compliment. I love the piss-stained alleyways and creakingly damp corners of Soho, and have affection for every dilapidated corner of London that's thus far escaped the 21st century. Hearing this plummy-voiced prick outlining his destructive ambitions made my teeth clench, the hair on my arms stand out on end and my eyes narrow to angry slits.

Worst of all, despite his all-consuming tosser-nature, he makes some good points! I have time for the idea that London can't simply function as an old-timey museum for tourists; the city's structure has always been in flux, each generation tearing areas down to make way for the new. It's a decent argument, but somewhat undermined by his naked greed and ambitions to build anonymous aluminium citadels for the absent megarich. 

A great start to the night. Federman and Vanson instantly define their characters and then proceed to ladle on complexity over the short-run time. Vanson in particular manages to give his property developer a a dead-eyed sharkish gaze, puffing him up into an unrepentant villain who can, at a stretch, be admired for his honest bastardry.


Next up is Push Up Daisies, written by Kudzi Hudson, performed by Sarah Sparrow and Timothy Harker. A woman wakes up in a dowdy office to be greeted by St Peter. He's a little distracted by sexts from the angel Gabriel and puffing away on a fag. She's promptly informed that she's dead and guided through formalities of the afterlife.

The idea of heaven as a stuffy bureaucracy is well-trodden territory. Right off the bat I can think of Beetlejuice, Doctor Who, A Matter of Life and Death, A Life Less Ordinary and various Terry Pratchett novels that tackle similar ideas. But, though well-trodden, Hudson approaches this with a few splodges of originality and a thinly veiled anger at contemporary vapidity.

Prime among her targets is the nebulous idea of being 'a good person'. Sam, the newly dead, is confronted by the way she utterly wasted her life; not even having the good graces to be effectively bad. She protests that she never really did anything wrong, only to be angrily rebuked that she never did anything at all. St Peter quickly reveals a sadistic streak as he outlines her stupid death, then promptly dispatches her to hell.

Hudson's misanthropy falls on just the right side of palatable. There's a catharsis in unleashing a broadside on mediocrity, presumably with the intention of jabbing the audience into actually achieving something with our short lives. That said, even in this short piece the writing meanders quite a bit. There's a ranty segment about Gillian Anderson that doesn't fit, feeling like it's been cut and pasted from a stand-up routine among other digressions. Still, the piece effectively hits its punchlines, ably assisted by a fine double-act from Sparrow and Harker.


This double-act continues in Montgomery by Roger Goldsmith. Here, Timothy Harker is the titular Monty, desk clerk in a swank hotel, bewitched by Sarah Sparrrow's upmarket sex worker Lily. This is a semi-cheeky confessional comedy that feels old-fashioned in a pleasant sort of way. In the way he describes suffocating, sexless suburban life there's a whiff of classic sex comedies, though shorn of the sexism that usually accompanies them.

This is written with humanity and a great eye for character detail, ably executed by a wonderful performance by Timothy Harker. Given that he's playing back to back pompous desk bound bureaucrats there's a worry of getting bored with the same stock character, but he manages to clearly delineate between the two. Frankly it's a pleasure spending time in his company, with his gallery of conspiratorial winks and pregnant pauses.

Montgomery doesn't have much to say about society, politics or ideology. Yet it's a pleasantly written comedy trifle with a good heart. And sometimes that's all you need.


The final piece was Clean by Peter Hobday, performed by Joan Potter. I didn't like it. A fractured stream of consciousness, we follow a confused and paranoid woman through a random series of occurrences and semi-surreal imagery. As a result, Potter's performance was fuzzily vague, as if ten or so distinct characters had been chucked in a blender and liquefied into a goopy fudge.

Though Clean's narrative experiments are, I guess, formally interesting, actually sitting through it bored the pants off me. Zero character development and no discernable linkage between the mini monologues that comprised the piece made for a damp squib ending to the night.


Oh well, three out of four isn't bad!

Summer Showers is performed tonight 31st of August. Tickets Here.

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