Tag Archives: Elizabeth Benbow

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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How We Begin

★★★★

King’s Head Theatre

How We Begin

How We Begin

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 11th August 2019

★★★★

 

“It’s always wonderful to see roles written for women that are robust and real”

 

Surfacing Act Theatre present their debut play, How We Begin at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. Written by Elisabeth Lewerenz, it depicts the beautifully complex love story of best friends Helen and Diana.

How We Begin is described, by the company, as ‘a queer female love story, told in a way, which has never been told before’ and after watching the show you can understand why they would so, boldly, declare this. Their production, certainly, has a unique voice and style that sharply defines itself. Surfacing Act Theatre was founded in 2019 when Elisabeth Lewerenz and Elizabeth Benbow (director) met during the VAULT Festival’s New Writers Showcase. Finding a kindred affinity for storytelling, they joined forces to write queer narratives which are often overlooked and left on the periphery of our stages.

The show begins with Helen (Talia Pick) and Diana (Emma Lucia) who intimately share their journey of friendship to secret lovers and then back to friendship again. This cyclical love tale; poignant and incredibly witty, was deftly navigated by Pick and Lucia who portrayed the vulnerable and conflicted characters with great emotional intelligence. Both actresses were confident, displaying perfect comic timing as they bantered on stage. Their presentation of the flexible duality of love, delicately peeled away the binary spectrum so predominantly seen. It’s always wonderful to see roles written for women that are robust and real. Lewerenz’s writing provided the platform for these actresses to thrive and Benbow’s direction was the catalyst to making the piece a seamless and engaging watch.

The stage was designed (Delyth Evans) with minimalist precision and though the space was not particularly large, somehow, it began to expand before our eyes; transporting us from one location to the next. This illusion was facilitated by the subtle lighting cues (Lucía Sánchez Roldán) that silently sang alongside the action whilst steering the direction of the play. Such is the magic of theatre when it is done well – all wheels of the production moving in one smooth motion.

The true power of this play, however, is in the ‘ordinariness’ of it. It is a transferable story, relatable to all ages, genders and demographics and yet this ordinary story (and those like it) are ignored and rarely represented. How We Begin opens up the box that queer love is repeatedly stuffed into and draws out the many layers and nuances that exist within it.

Surfacing Act Theatre have created an astute, professional and accomplished production. If this is what they achieve as a debut, then they have a bright future ahead of them.

 

Reviewed by Pippin

Photography by Charlie Sambrook

 

kings head theatre

How We Begin

King’s Head Theatre until 12th August

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Undetectable | ★★★★ | March 2019
Awkward Conversations With Animals … | ★★★★ | April 2019
HMS Pinafore | ★★★★ | April 2019
Unsung | ★★★½ | April 2019
Coral Browne: This F***Ing Lady! | ★★ | May 2019
This Island’s Mine | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Vulvarine | ★★★★★ | June 2019
Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina In The World | ★★★ | July 2019
Mating In Captivity | ★★★★ | July 2019
Oddball | ★★★½ | July 2019

 

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