IThis year it’s also very much a festival with a strong feminine presence. Notably Caroline Horton’s dramatisation of her French grandmother’s life (You’re Not Like Other Girls Chrissy) from a myopic girlhood through meeting – and becoming engaged to – a Staffordshire teacher in 1939, separation throughout the Paris Occupation until finally – in spite of all British and French bureaucracy can throw in her way – a happy ending results. It’s moving, very cleverly staged and thoroughly deserves the awards it’s garnered.
Then there are two mime-based stories. One is that of Valentina Ceschi in Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice, which is an off-putting title for a triple study in loneliness. Wearing a half-mask for the central episode, Ceschi shows us what Alzeimer’s means to one elderly woman living on her own. To this we may all yet come.
A Life in 22 Minutes has Guilia Innocenti as the woman waiting for a delayed train in the rain. She relives the minutiae of her everyday and extremely mundane existence as well as the fantasy of a wheelchair-bound formerly famous actress, fielding rather too many questions from an audience of adoring fans.
Shani Erez, Kylie Walsh and Jemma McDonnell lead us slowly into the piece about researching and then vocalising people whose lives are very different to our own. Others uses feedback from an Iranian woman, a prisoner and a celebrity to challenge our assumptions about them. There are flexible pieces of set and a precision-manoeuvred hospital trolley which become actors in their own right.
Male performers dominate five of the other one-person shows. The best of these is Empire, in which a gay cabaret artist relives his triumphs. François is the singer-dancer accompanied on the accordion by Ian Hill, who manages to invest the instrument with considerable menace. Looking a little like the young Nuryev, François reveals heartbreak and loneliness with a repertoire which takes in cabaret chansons as well as Wagner and a touch of Purcell.
John Peel’s Shed is a lengthy love-letter to radio by John Osborne. In 2002 he won a competition for which the prize was a collection of often-obscure vinyl records from Peel’s own collection. Since then Osborne has developed a career as a DJ and written a book. This one-man show with musical interruptions (lots of them) is pleasant enough in its own way.
Which is more than you can say for Escape Velocity, Thomas Martin’s meander through space and far too much of out time. The premise behind Dan Canham’s 30 Cecil Street is an interesting one – an abandoned theatre in Limerick with the memories of those who have performed there from the 1860s to around 2000 crumbling away with its timbers. As a dance-theatre piece with a recorded soundtrack of interviews, this almost works. Almost, but not quite.
People take pot-shots at those who stick their heads above the parapet, both actual and metaphorical. So maintains Tim Clare in How To Be a Leader which offers us an unusual collection of villains and heroes (not to mention heroines) presented with projected visuals and the poet-performer’s own raps in celebration of them.
Are there no actual plays, you may be thinking by this time. Yes, there are. Two, so far. The interesting one is Babyboxes from the Bootworks Theatre Collective. A business-man has been shot. Who did it? Was it his driver, or his mistress, or his wife? A detective tries to get to the bottom of the mystery while an inept forensic scientist delves even deeper, though in the wrong direction.
Four rabbit-hutches on wheels each contain an actor. John Woodburn is the driver, and the priest to whom he turns for help in the confessional. Laura Bern, Bathan Coundley and Ellis Seamons are the three women. We meet each in turn, sitting in front of each box to hear the story unfold. It’s more than an interesting piece of street theatre; it’s actually good theatre.
Which brings me to the script-in-hand performance of Jonathan Lichtenstein’s Inkle and Yariko. This is a full-length play in two acts. The first takes place in 1795 and begins with Inkle and his servant Trudge being marooned off the African coast. Inkle needs money for the upkeep of his ancestral estates. Slave-running to Barbados and marriage to a rich heiress are his chosen routes to fortune.
An African girl, Yariko (Gracy Goldman) and her sister Waki (Samantha Pearl) rescue the two castaways. Inkle (Eamonn O’Dwyer) is at first content with Yariko’s love for him but when all four arrive in Barbados, greed gets the better of him. Though by now his fiancée Narcissa (Georgina White) sees through him, her father Sir Christopher (Graham Kent) strikes an infamous bargain.
We fast-forward to the present for the second act. Modern-day Inkle has just come out of prison. His shrew of a wife is more concerned with her own career than anything – or anybody – else. Waki has just qualified as a doctor. Yariko is coming to terms with having been raped. Sir Christopher, as always, wants the best of all possible worlds. Trudge (Simon Nock}) lives up to his name. he’s everyone’s dogsbody.
The back-story seems to be one of genetics. Act One is supposed to be based on an actual late 18th century play; it certainly sounds like an authentic pastiche. Act Two works better, with Pearl and White giving particularly strong characterisations. Goldman is silent for Act One, expressing her love and shock at betrayal through movement alone. [Allyson Devenish directs a quartet from the Nitrovox Choir which provides a poignant obbligato to the bitterness reveled in Peter Rowe’s production.
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