“Waller’s technique of confiding in us, seeking affirmation from individual after individual in the audience is effortless and effective”
Tim Fraser’s ‘Candy’ benefits from an intriguing story idea. Will, a regular guy from a regular Northern town, falls in love with his best friend’s drag persona, Candy. The power of a good premise is evident in the work’s origin, picked out from around a thousand submissions to be staged at the Bunker Theatre in 2018, and here it is, playing to a full house at the Kings Head Theatre, in a new, full-length version.
The play’s second asset is the character of Will himself, tongue-tied in real life but possessed of a sparkling and relentless internal monologue delivered with stamina and charm by Michael Waller. As Will tells of his angst, his dreams, of his fury at the lies sown by his Aunt’s romantic comedy collection, his contemplation of anatomy in the matter of attraction and the alienation he feels amongst his heteronormative friends and colleagues, Waller’s technique of confiding in us, seeking affirmation from individual after individual in the audience is effortless and effective.
Admittedly, from its promising springboard, the tale doesn’t get far. Will doesn’t grow, his besotted state seems neither lustful, nor part of a greater transformation. There’s no sense that Bill, the quirky, indeed wilful, mate from school that went down to the Big Smoke and created Candy, is the real connection he’s striving to make. Instead, the hour’s narrative is pithily summarised by Will himself in an anticlimactic moment of revelation, when he simply confesses, ‘In short, I’m confused.’
The production, devised by the performer himself, never escapes the confines of Will’s head, but Nico Pimparé’s direction keeps things lively with strategically placed folding chairs and a microphone stand for Will to stroll and cavort between, while Stephen Waller’s original music conveys a far-from raunchy drag act as the object of Will’s confusion and elsewhere builds atmosphere unobtrusively.
If, as programme notes hint, a film adaptation may be in the works, Tim Fraser has his work cut out. The idea of a Northern English town with no understanding of drag culture is quaint, and despite Will’s candour and hilarious male logic, nothing quite happens. There’s almost a breakthrough when Will realises that his toad-like Aunt was herself a very different persona in early life…but no, no epiphany, no insight into the social construct of identity, no realisation that love is deeper than a moment of boozed up infatuation. On his mother’s advice, Will retreats to the embrace of Aunt’s sofa-indentations and resigns not to meet Candy, or Bill, again. However, if a second or third act is forthcoming, perhaps one day we might.
“a show that demonstrates the diversity, vitality and ambition of young theatre-makers”
Shorts 2 is the second night of new writing produced by Reboot Theatre Company. With the use of simple staging, committed performances, and six of the best short plays selected from hundreds of submissions, Reboot (along with director Nico Pimparé) present a promising glimpse of a new generation of playwrights.
The show opens with Cradle, based on the deceptively simple premise of a couple (played by Faidon Loumakis and Athena Bounti) drifting apart. But, like the new Mercedes sitting proudly in their driveway, this is simply a cover, one that writer Sascha Moore slowly strips away to reveal a harrowing story of loss. The plot is layered and complex – surprisingly so considering its length – and Bounti’s performance is captivating.
It’s a hard act to follow, but The Answer is more than capable of doing so. It’s 1973, and Clive (Tom Blake) is taking a step into the future by purchasing an “ansafone”; his wife Jenny (Rachel Brown) thinks it’s a step too far. Tom Glover expertly satirises our age-old obsession with the latest must-haves. The writing and performances are witty, self-assured, and a great contrast to Moore’s tension-laced opener.
Kiss Kiss by Lily Shahmoon follows co-workers whose affair begins at completely the wrong time. They only have a few more months together before Hayley, who is pregnant, must retreat into stability. Shahmoon has created a sweet and endearing love story, and gives it a twist by presenting it entirely through text messages. Bounti and Michael Waller have great chemistry as Hayley and Chris, but important moments sometimes feel rushed.
Laura Harper’s Vermin opens the second half: whilst not as strong of an opener as Cradle, it is an intriguing premise that is well-executed. Lucinda and Ash are in pursuit of a fox. He wants to prove his usefulness to the resistance, she to gain access to the upper echelons of society. Harper’s piece is sinister, but its swift pace sometimes hinders our understanding of her dystopian world.
After a string of two-handers, Harry ter Haar’s Cheating unites four of the five actors to discuss the meaning of this act. Nick (Blake) announces in the middle of dessert that his wife is cheating on him…but is she? What follows is an absurd unravelling of the concept of “cheating” that impressively combines humour and high stakes. As in The Answer, Blake steals the show with his comic timing.
The final piece, Candy, is a monologue that rounds off a balanced programme. Will (Waller) is not the sentimental type, but a chance encounter with the woman of his dreams transforms his outlook. The piece is somewhat predictable and you can see the ending coming, but this does nothing to devalue Tim Fraser’s well-rounded exploration of character. Waller is likeable and engaging, drawing the audience in and effortlessly keeping them engaged.
Reboot have clearly worked hard to showcase a variety of forms and perspectives. The result is a show that demonstrates the diversity, vitality and ambition of young theatre-makers.