Tag Archives: Lucía Sánchez Roldán

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 Niceties

★★★

Finborough Theatre

The Niceties

The Niceties

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 3rd October 2019

★★★

 

“fretfully provocative and painfully relevant, and it gives us a whole lot to think about”

 

Though it might be said of many a time in history, the debate on power distribution seems particularly prevalent at this political moment, and the argument between generations seems louder than ever, with terms such as ‘generation snowflake’ being bandied about. Eleanor Burgess’ The Niceties, as directed by Matthew Illife, is a timely discussion between young and old, majority and minority, and radical and moderate.

Zoe (Moronkę Akinola), a young black student, and her professor Janine (Janie Dee), a white woman of obvious privilege, are poring over a first draft of Zoe’s thesis. What begins as an interesting discussion between two enthusiasts morphs into a gritty debate on the innately imperialist structure of academia and history’s stress on the white experience. The argument becomes personal very quickly, as is made clear to us by a soundtrack (Kate Marlais) of a low thrum and a heartbeat, confirming that things have turned nasty. This is pretty much the only sound used throughout, appearing again halfway through the second act, and it seems a bit unnecessary and patronising.

That being said, tension rises so early in the play that it’s perhaps necessary to continuously raise the bar. Whilst Zoe clearly has cause to be frustrated with the system, Akinola plays her more like a petulant child for the first half. Stomping around her professor’s office, avoiding eye contact, it feels more like a fight between a mother and her teenage daughter than between an esteemed academic and a promising student. The argument’s peak is lost in her almost constant state of fury where it might have had more punch if she had deferred her outrage slightly.

Akinola is quite a force on stage, however, and whilst her character choices don’t necessarily serve the play, her commitment to the role is tremendous.

Dee’s American accent is a little shaky and it gets in the way of her delivery for the first twenty minutes or so, but regardless, it feels as though she might have ad-libbed half the play, so natural are her mannerisms and emotional turns.

With an audience on three sides and an office-desk setting (Rachel Stone), the staging is always going to be tricky. The solution, it seems, is to keep both performers moving at all times, circling each other like cage fighters, in order to avoid having someone’s back to the audience throughout. It feels unlikely in this particular scenario, but maybe that’s how professors’ office hours are in the US?

No matter how it’s staged, the text itself will always, I think, make for uncomfortable viewing, pitting idealism against pragmatism; negotiating for improvements versus demanding immediate change. It’s an interesting discussion, but I’m not convinced these were the characters to have it: Though she isn’t without nuance, Zoe seems a slightly unfair and unkind representation of a completely sound point of view where Janine, though certainly flawed, comes off as charming and reasonable. It’s not a fair fight.

There’s no doubt The Niceties brings certain necessary and urgent conversations to the table, and whilst it doesn’t quite strike an even tone, it is fretfully provocative and painfully relevant, and it gives us a whole lot to think about.

 

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ali Wright

 


The Niceties

Finborough Theatre until 26th October

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019
After Dark; Or, A Drama Of London Life | ★★★★ | June 2019
Go Bang Your Tambourine | ★★★★ | August 2019

 

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