Review: Off Cut Festival – The Final, Riverside Studios

“And the winner is…”

After a successful run over the last few weeks at the Riverside Studios, the Off Cut Festival reached its finale tonight and prizes awarded, including the coveted Audience Award which carries with it a commission to develop the winning play and receive a full production here in Hammersmith. The 28 plays were whittled down to the 8 most popular which then made it through to the final week to perform again and audiences were able to vote on their favourite, the announcement being made at this final showcase. A panel of industry professionals also awarded honours for the best company of actors, director and writer to complement the main prize as the audience watched each of the finalists for one final time.

Having missed Group 4, I was keen to see the two plays that had made it through from that selection so that I could make up my own mind about who I thought should win. The first of these was Andrew Biss’ The Craft – a hysterical two-hander about two mutually loathing actors playing a scene with their every inner thought being spoken out loud. I loved it, it was immediate, punchy writing and crucially extremely witty. Tracy Ann Wood and Dan March were ideally suited to their roles, the only thing I would say about it was that as it was such a perfectly-formed 15 minute short, I wasn’t too sure how it could have been further developed. The other, Tanja Mariadoss’ Let There Be, I was less keen on. A scatty artist having something of a breakdown starts an illicit affair with her landlord who is something of an uncle figure in her life whilst his 14 year old daughter watches on with disgust, kissing her teeth and spitting lyrical barbs as a would-be rapper. It wasn’t that it was at all bad, I just didn’t really engage with the piece or really want to see much more of how the story might develop, although Hannah Wood’s white-girl rapping was a delight to behold. Continue reading “Review: Off Cut Festival – The Final, Riverside Studios”

Review: Off Cut Festival Group 3, Riverside Studios

“Hey, let’s put on a play”

Due to a manic schedule this week, I was only able to attend one of the final two groups of plays in the Off Cut Festival, a fact which will annoy the completist in me something rotten, but I was pleased to at least have made it to three of the four. Reviews of Groups One and Two have already been posted, and here is a quick collection of thoughts about these plays before we head into the final week when the top two plays from each group will play for the week, ahead of the final at which the winners will be decided.

Head and shoulders above the rest for me was Mark Wright’s Looking for Vi, a gently cautionary tale about the effects of obsessive fandom on both the super-fan and on the subject too, as geeky Julia tracks down reclusive former soapstar Vi in an old person’s home in order to complete a set of signatures from her favourite TV show. But behind this simple task lies deep wells of emotion for both women and they are given beautiful depth by Maroussia Frank and Joy Blakeman. Another of my favourites was Hannah Williams Walton’s Memories of Loss, an intertwining tale of two stories of tragic loss and the histories behind the relationships. It was a quietly moving piece and given interesting direction by Ali Anderson-Dyer and it was something I felt that could be developed into something quite intriguing. Continue reading “Review: Off Cut Festival Group 3, Riverside Studios”

Review: Off Cut Festival Group 2, Riverside Studios

“Commitment. What a conundrum.”

I’ve written more about the Off Cut Festival in the review of Group 1 and in this post, so in this post, I’ll just cover the shows that were included in the second group of plays. As a collection, it felt that they were slightly more adventurous both in the writing and the direction, unafraid to push the artistic envelope a bit more but with mixed success.

My top three were Two Rings by Louise Taylor, a favourite from the Bloggers evening and one which moved me once again with its mismatched couple of a stroppy young volunteer and an Alzheimer’s-ridden care home resident who find they have so much more in common than they ever dreamed; Wet Dog by Ösp Viggósdóttir was a delightfully surreal adventure with an all-too plausible manipulation of a hapless visitor; and the bizarre MEAT, which was most squirm-inducing yet still managed to intrigue as well. Rebecca Fielding’s Bound was very well received so I wouldn’t be surprised if that made it through but I found it a little dull to be honest. Continue reading “Review: Off Cut Festival Group 2, Riverside Studios”

Review: Off Cut Festival Group 1, Riverside Studios

“This…this could be a real opportunity”

The Off Cut Festival is a short play festival that is taking place over the next few weeks at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. It is quite an ambitious project which is bringing together 28 writers who have all come up with 15 minute plays and being staged here in four groups of seven with a creative team of over 80 actors and directors, the eventual winner receiving a full commission. I was actually part of a group of bloggers who were responsible for choosing a small handful of the plays that were included in the final 28 but I can’t really claim any responsibility here, it has all been down to the hard-working folks at In Company Theatre who have put together the whole shebang, something which must have been a logistical nightmare but which has come together nicely.

It is fascinating to see the different ways in which writers approach the 15 minute brief and the differing styles, subject matters and tones employed across the seven plays I saw this afternoon, which is then multiplied by four across the entire final shortlist. In some ways, it is easiest to go for comedy which makes the greatest initial impact but then it is not always so simple to make people laugh – as evidenced by a couple of these pieces in which the jokes often fell flat – and there’s something to be said for the more elliptical entries which entice you into their strange little worlds and are unafraid to leave questions unanswered, situations unresolved, but the interest most definitely piqued. Continue reading “Review: Off Cut Festival Group 1, Riverside Studios”

Blogged: Selecting Blogger’s Choice for Off Cut Festival 2011

The Off Cut Festival 2011 will see 28 short plays being performed at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios as part of a three week showcase of new and undiscovered talent with the audience able to vote for their favourite play, which will receive development time and a full run next year – much like last year’s winner Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind which played at the Hen + Chickens in March. The reading panel selected 32 plays, all of which they would have been happy to have in the festival and of those, 24 were put into four groups to best reflect the diversity of writing style/genre/tone/casting in order to present the most exciting, interesting and varied programme for the audience. And because they are crazy people at Off Cut, they invited a panel of bloggers – yours truly, Scott, Luke, Alison and Havana – to select our favourite four from the remaining eight to make up the final programme.

Thus we were treated to readings of 8 short plays from the Off Cut reading panel plus a little extra assistance, and though there were several moments of helpless giggles at some of the more absurd points, there were also some lovely touching moments which really added to the whole experience and brought a complete life to the scripts that would have been lacking had it been a simple reading exercise. The subjects covered were an interestingly varied range, as were the formats, but the final four that we selected by committee were: Continue reading “Blogged: Selecting Blogger’s Choice for Off Cut Festival 2011”

Review: Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind, Hen & Chickens

“Who wants to be normal?”

Winner of the Off Cut Writing Award 2010 as a 15 minute short, Mitch Féral has now expanded his play, Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind, into an 80 minute piece which is playing at the Hen & Chickens at Highbury Corner. It is a tragicomic story of a long-married couple, he an astrophysicist with grand plans about the nature of reality and the possibility of time travel, she a history teacher struggling to deal with the early onset dementia of her once-vibrant husband.

Simon Nicholas was strong as the highly intelligent physicist suffering from the slow decline of his mental faculties, and subject to the vagaries of a mind that flits from memory to memory without logic or reason. He captured the quicksilver flashes of mood too, turning almost violent as his frustrations come close to boiling over. But it was Debra Baker as his long-suffering wife who really blew me away with her quietly dignified performance, setting her teeth to the grim reality of full-time caring for a loved one who can’t show gratitude. It is her lucidity that fleshes out the random memories that pop into her husband’s mind, telling the story of their courtship and marriage, the good times of the past which have inevitably turned into the more trying times of the present day, and she really makes one believe the strength of the love between these two people and just why she could never put him into a home. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind, Hen & Chickens”