Tag Archives: Daniel Ward

The First

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

The First

The First

Pit – The Vaults

Reviewed – 11th February 2020

★★★★★

 

“one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger”

 

You would hardly expect one of the small venues at the VAULT Festival to host an epic, but Barry McStay’s “The First” offers a space odyssey that deserves a universe of stars.

This 60-minute two-hander features two astronauts on the first crewed space mission to Mars hoping to make history. Back home a war of the words breaks out about the Martian expedition, with two writers battling to produce a speech suitable for the US President to praise its success – and another to deliver should it fail.

The play was inspired by the famous speech given by President Nixon when Apollo 11 saw the first men land on the Moon in 1969 and the alternative version which praised the crew’s sacrifice in the event of a fatality – much in the news over the 50th anniversary of the mission last year.

McStay’s rich and heart-stirring script probes a possible future scenario that feels all too real and credible with its clever parallel dramas of the eager astronauts discovering things starting to go wrong with their vessel only days away from touchdown on the Red Planet and two imaginative writers tussling with words of triumph or remorse.

In just an hour the tightly-written play manages to consider heroism, positivity in the face of danger, a depth of human relationships, coping with tragedy and humanity’s innate desire to explore beyond frontiers.

Playing all four roles are Katrina Allen and Daniel Ward, with barely a heartbeat marking the switch from the space travellers to the writers. Multi-role playing is never easy, but the two actors manage it effortlessly.

Allen is the all-American no-nonsense astronaut Rose, who envisages her face being carved on the side of a mountain to commemorate her fame. She gave up a boyfriend in favour of making the trip and Allen captures this personal sacrifice alongside the excitement the character feels at being a pioneer.

Her colleague on-board is the gay black Englishman Simeon, who Ward plays with authority. His wake-up music on the ship is the theme to “2001” (hers is Europe’s “The Final Countdown”) and he wants a school named after him . There are some fabulous moments where the pair discuss the fact that everything they do on Mars will be “the first…” yet both recognise the emotional effects of knowing that no other human beings have ever been so far apart from other humans.

Ward is also the brash and experienced political hack Marcus, forced to work on the two possible scripts with celebrated screenwriter Alisha (Allen), whose successful TV show has just been cancelled by the network.

Allen and Ward work together splendidly throughout, arguing a liberal vs conservative political agenda while developing a grudging respect for one another as the writers and keeping spaceboots solidly on terra firma as the trailblazing astronauts.

Director Emily Jenkins makes every second count, keeping an energetic pace without losing important moments of silence and reflection. Movement director Mikey Brett manages to make the astronauts look weightless, with adroit use of minimal props and set (Delyth Evans’ two tables and two chairs are skilfully utilised on an appropriately claustrophobic traverse stage with a large red disc on one wall representing Mars).

“The First” is one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger with a potential stage or screen production that will be out of this world.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

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The Canary and the Crow

The Canary and the Crow

★★★½

Arcola Theatre

The Canary and the Crow

The Canary and the Crow

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 20th January 2020

★★★½

 

“fresh, engaging and painfully relevant, and a startlingly accomplished debut”

 

Having already won the crowds at Edinburgh Fringe, The Canary and the Crow, directed by Paul Smith, comes to the Arcola to try the slightly more implacable audiences of London.

Writer Daniel Ward begins by addressing the audience directly, explaining the play’s genesis: A well-known black actor came to Ward’s drama school and asked all BAME students, “What is it like being black at drama school?” And by way of answering that question and its wider implication – what is it like being black in a society that is predominantly white – he has written The Canary and the Crow. Beginning his story as an eleven-year old accepting a scholarship to a fancy private school, Ward plays both his younger self (the Bird) and his narrating self, giving the story a necessary duality – the younger self experiencing this new and privileged world for the first time, and the present self placing this experience into a wider understanding of society.

Ward is aided in his story-telling by Nigel Taylor, Laurie Jamieson and Rachel Barnes. Taylor, initially the audience hype man and DJ, doubles up as Ward’s teenage friend from home, paralleling Ward’s experiences as someone who was not given the same opportunity. Jamieson and Barnes cover all manner of ‘rah’ characters from Ward’s private school, as well as providing cello, keyboard and vocals.

There’s pretty much no set to speak of. Instead, Ward moves about centre stage, encircled (or caged in) by Taylor, Jamieson and Barnes, who each take their turns to join him, thereafter returning to their onlooker’s spot.

There’s a bit of a disconnect between the production choices and the writing itself. The script is full of shade and nuance, dealing with difficult and complicated problems of belonging and identity, as well as economic and cultural advantage, making arguments such as, “ambition without opportunity is what kills people.”

But the production wants to simplify the story. Granted, Jamieson and Barnes provide plenty of comic relief in their depiction of toff pupils and uptight teachers. But in doing so, they mar these characters’ ominous implications. Similarly, the soundtrack (Prez 96 and James Frewer), a mash-up of grime and classical music, doesn’t quite reach the heights of dissonance and discord that it might. It’s as though Ward couldn’t decide who his audience should be. As gig theatre, this feels like something for teenagers, and in that capacity, it succeeds. But the story holds greater possibilities for a more sophisticated production, maybe something that gives room for those moments of suffocating tension or heart-breaking tenderness that are somewhat lost in this production.

Regardless, The Canary and The Crow is fresh, engaging and painfully relevant, and a startlingly accomplished debut. I look forward to seeing what Ward comes up with next.

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by The Other Richard

 


The Canary and the Crow

Arcola Theatre until 8th February

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Little Miss Sunshine | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Glass Menagerie | ★★★★ | May 2019
Radio | ★★★★ | June 2019
Riot Act | ★★★★★ | June 2019
Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal | ★★★★ | July 2019
The Only Thing A Great Actress Needs, Is A Great Work And The Will To Succeed | ★★★ | July 2019
Anna Bella Eema | ★★★ | September 2019
Beryl | ★★½ | October 2019
Meet Me At Dawn | ★★★ | October 2019
One Under | ★★★ | December 2019

 

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