This week at Camden Fringe, The Importance of Being Martha and We Wrote a Show make for a pair of contrasting two-handers at the Hope Theatre
“Everyone’s happy to be here”
Aimee Ferguson’s The Importance of Being Martha is a tender thing, fragile at first but growing into something – if not stronger – but definitely more hopeful by its end. After a traumatically bad time of it, Martha has retreated into the safety of her bedroom and constructed her own magical kingdom therein. A place of pure imagination – glittering night skies, friendly book clubs and jaunty jingles – the only trouble comes when Martha’s sister Suzie knocks on the door to shatter the illusion, even as she comes with a comforting mug of tea and real concern for her sibling. Step by step though, we see how Suzie is able to persuade her sister into accepting again that there can be magic in reality too.
Ferguson’s writing excels in the intimate moments – the evocative descriptions as Martha’s imagination running wild, the shared storytelling of age-old family tales (I loved the one about the cabbages). And Leon Finnan’s production draws two complementary performances from Clementine Medforth as the engaging Martha and Eleanor Jackson as the quietly commited Suzie. And as Suzie nudges her into an online support group, video and voiceover expands Martha’s IRL world and allows her spirit to gradually flourish there once again. If a little of that magic intimacy is lost through this transition, the show loses none of its genial warmth.
We Wrote a Show takes a far more leftfield approach to the notion of being human however. Steve and Evie are two Artificial Intelligences who have been tasked with assimilating into English culture and we join them as they go through their final few tests before being sent off to Earth. It is an inspired route into poking fun at particularly English tropes of behaviour – exams in the correct way of saying ‘I’m sorry’, how not to get served at a busy bar, the etiquette of queuing…it is all highly amusing and none more so than in the dinner party simulation. Fair warning, audience participation is on the cards here but all in generously warm spirits and over with nice and quickly.
Jack Cray and Hannah Adams are bags of fun as Steve and Evie – him underprepared and winging it, her much more focused on the finer details of it all. There’s something interesting about the hints of something deeper and more philosophical that creep in, a strand ripe with potential if the show is to be developed, but its current strengths definitely lie in its outright humour. The bickering repartee between them as they establish what human ‘partners’ do, the joys of cheese and crackers and the not necessarily SFW way in which toothpaste is applied. Cosmically good fun.