Reviewed – 14th February 2019
“a stellar debut, thoroughly researched with keen dialogue”
It is rare for theatre to leave the audience silently stunned in the final blackout. However, Bottled will succeed in rendering you utterly speechless, trying and failing to hold back tears. For a debut playwright and performed by such a youthful cast, it’s an awesome achievement.
Katy, simultaneously played by Alice Vilanculo, Isabel Stone and Hayley Wareham, introduces herself to us on her fifteenth birthday. Over the course of the next hour we follow her as she gets a boyfriend, studies for her GCSEs and tries to get on with her mum’s new boyfriend, Brian. Brian seems alright at first, apart from his baking of strawberry flavoured cakes (Katy’s least favourite) he actually seems like a cool guy, offering to pay for Katy’s Spanish holiday with her mates and taking her fishing. But gradually her mum stops seeing her friends, Aunty Carol doesn’t come round anymore, and mum has quit her job because Brian can look after the both of them on his own. It doesn’t take long before Katy’s mum is isolated and Katy starts to notice purple patterns around her mother’s eye.
Exploring domestic abuse from the perspective of a teenager, and someone whose life is secondarily affected by manipulation, violence and fear is deeply emotive. Katy’s innocence and naivety means it just hurts harder. Each of the three actors portray their own emphasis and interpretation but form a hive mind on stage so that each is a distinct part of Katy.
Hayley Wareham’s script is cleverly balanced, introducing Katy as a bright, witty and ambitious young girl who’s aware of the absurdities of modern life. You immediately warm to her through humour but ultimately empathise with sincerity as you see how quickly circumstances can change. It’s a stellar debut, thoroughly researched with keen dialogue. The piece sensitively and subtly explores the current failings of the welfare system, in which refuge centres, hostels and temporary housing make it painfully difficult to sustain a life free from abuse, let alone thrive with one.
Chris White’s direction is necessarily stylised having multiple actors playing the same character. This has the effect of actually elevating the horror of the situation through echoes, amplification and repetition of sound and movement (Jess Tucker Boyd). Conversely, the set and lighting is sparse, with no more than a handful of props used with surprising utility coming from helium balloons.
Bottled makes for a truly affecting piece filled with emotional urgency that certainly proves it’s not about big budgets when it comes to impactful theatre.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Slav Kirichok
Part of VAULT Festival 2019
Reviewed – 14th November 2018
“There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe”
Chutney is a play brimming with potential – an intriguing premise, intelligent intentions, slick design, and a talented pair of actors helming the two-hander. Despite having all the recipe for brilliance, however, not all the ingredients are used effectively.
Reece Connolly’s play aims to transpose the murderous couple dynamic seen in the likes of Macbeth and Sweeney Todd to the thoroughly middle class Gregg (Will Adolphy) and Claire (Isabel Della-Porta). After primally killing a dog one evening, the pair ignite a bloodlust that they find in equal parts exhilarating and terrifying as it consumes their lives, and the paranoia of their misdeeds starts to infect their relationship. It’s an exciting setup for a story, but the script unrelentingly dismisses the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ with a constant barrage of narration and exposition to the audience; having the characters incessantly explain what they are thinking at any given moment removes all notion of subtext, and frequently kills the dramatic potential for scenes. Claire and Gregg will often deliver intercutting monologues to the audience which would have been more far more engaging as dialogue between the two where they are forced to challenge and change each other. Instead, it at times feels like two one-person shows simply running parallel.
It’s a shame the script falters in this way, as Connolly’s writing is often witty, sharp, and poetic. There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe – moments such as Claire drunkenly dancing with a crossbow, the couple reservedly eating pasta, and a particularly enthralling confrontation in the second act are all stellar, and made it all the more disappointing that more of the script did not place an equal amount of faith in the audience to engage with the story. It is also in these moments that Adolphy and Della-Porta are allowed to shine, finding opportunities to bring depth and nuance to the characters, and delivering energetic and intense performances.
The design helps to gloss over the script’s shortcomings, with Matt Cater’s sumptuous lighting and Ben Winter’s biting sound lending weight and impact to dramatic peaks that would have otherwise been lacking. Jasmine Swan’s aesthetically delightful middle-class kitchen set also depicts the world of the play very effectively, and Georgie Staight’s direction incorporates this with the actors to create some striking imagery.
Ultimately, however, it all feels hollow. It’s always concerning when the writer’s note in a programme claims the play is achieving or exploring ideas that simply aren’t present in what transpired on stage. Chutney, unfortunately, is one such example of this. It aims to critique the middle-class utopia of Britain but, for a play which spends the majority of its runtime lambasting the audience with quips and asides, finds itself with very little to say.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Rah Petherbridge
The Bunker until 1st December
Previously reviewed at this venue: