Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 31st July 2019
“the two actors bring to life the banter of sisters, the directness of the council estate kid, the familiarity of workmates…”
For those unacquainted with this particular style of documentary theatre, what sounds like a distracting stage procedure to convey humdrum small talk turns out to be a very enlightening yet grounding discovery. Verbatim technique – performing the words of interviewees – was created by American actor, Anna Deavere Smith. Taking the genre a step further, Alecky Blythe, in 2003, set up her company Recorded Delivery and, rather than allowing actors to interpret the words, she relayed the transcripts live to them through earphones. They remained faithful to the original delivery of the lines, giving themselves over to the dialogue and retaining every stutter, cough and hesitation, their own egos lost in the effort of concentration. Preserving what journalists would normally discard, we find ourselves listening intently, using the intonation and pauses and half sentences as clues to their train of thought and connecting closely to their openness.
Alyce Louise-Potter began her own exploration of verbatim style in 2014, creating Spur of the Moment. After her one-woman show about mental health, her new production, ‘Class’, in collaboration with Kelsey Short, delves into the minds of the working class with a collection of entertaining and reflective conversations from south east London locals – coincidently, my own neck of the woods. Cleverly edited to illustrate a cross-section of society, the separate tales, reflections and opinions fit together in colourful harmony. Through these intertwining stories, we build an attachment to the various characters and an insight into their views on prejudice, stereotypes, accents, work, money, upbringing and values. On a practically bare set and with just a couple of changes of hat, the two actors bring to life the banter of sisters, the directness of the council estate kid, the familiarity of workmates… The community get on with their lives, coping with situations, proud of who they are and where they are from. There is no bitterness or resentment and no sentimentality. Xander Mars’ direction helps with a fluid yet unhurried pace which draws us into their reality.
This is a refreshing production with a positive message. The technical skill involved is hard to imagine, especially in the dialogues but the personalities portrayed by Alyce and Kelsey are so vivid and captivating that we are barely aware of the method. By its very nature, ‘Class’ is not for dramatic effect but is simply to tell the truth and bring to the theatre the voices of those who would not otherwise have the opportunity. We realise that what people say about everyday things is fascinating and through their honesty, it is also funny, touching and enriching.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Tristan Bates Theatre until 3rd August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Bread and Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 2nd March 2018
“digs below the clichéd façade to the personal relationships between family and friends”
Set in South-East London’s Thamesmead, dubbed a ‘post-war dream gone wrong’, Scott James brings to life the archetypal sink-estate community, surrounded by the familiarity of domestic abuse, crime and racial and sexual prejudice, in an astute yet imaginative drama. ‘F*ckingLifeMate’ digs below the clichéd façade to the personal relationships between family and friends, drawing the audience into the quagmire of emotions, violence, dejection and survival. The play centres around Kirsty – a brilliant tour de force from Kelsey Short – who is determined to break out of the comfortless cyclic pattern of teenage pregnancy, unemployment and social benefits. The script flows smoothly in and out of dialogue and narrative and James’ direction is the perfect blend of natural and choreographed movement (Michael Flanagan and Cristian Valle) creating a piece of theatre which is impossible to disengage from.
The strong chemistry between the actors reinforces the important bond which holds the group of friends together as they manage problematic home lives. The stereotypes and stereotypical predicaments are all there, but the exceptional standard of the cast prevents it becoming a parody. Chelsea, the defiant lesbian, played by Samantha Jacobs, grounds her brashness from the moment she enters. Roisin Gardner as Jorden conveys fragile, teenage sensitivity reminding us that even pretty girls have feelings and Hayley (Jasmin Gleeson) adds her own assertive fire, herself suffering from a variation on a dysfunctional family. In a particularly bold performance, Gleeson doubles as Kirsty’s mother, impassioned and troubled. Chantel Richardson as Cassie, the newcomer, holds an enigmatic figure until she gradually develops an unexpected friendship with Kirsty, kindling aspirations for a different future. In a poignant outburst of anguish, Nathan Lister as Kirsty’s brother Bradley, pours his heart out to his family, one by one, displaying a range of nuanced tensions and Michael Flanagan moves skilfully from Kirsty’s long-suffering father to her bright-eyed friend, Peter. All also contribute colourful cameos to the scenes, widening the perspective of the social story.
Using a handful of lights, Emilie Nutley transforms the modest Bread and Roses Theatre with hues and shades, often cinematographic in effect. The uncomplicated black and white costumes avoid what could become a pastiche, and the style reminds us of their young age, despite what they have lived. The bare performing area, clever music and only the necessary props accentuate the ingenuity involved in this production – the variety and continuity of movement, dynamics of mood and well-balanced characters.
Although, as pointed out at the beginning of the play, ‘F*ckingLifeMate’ is representative of a condensed portion of Thamesmead, symbolic of the recurrent social problems, this is a production which reaches the audience’s empathy through the essence of theatre. Even the strong language and graphic descriptions fit relevantly into the style. Innovative writing, commanding, expressive acting and free-flowing direction make this an exhilarating theatrical experience delivered at full throttle by a talented team.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Robert Piwko
Bread & Roses Theatre until 10th March