The Off Cut Festival is an opportunity for new writers to showcase their work but it’s also an opportunity for theatre audiences to participate in a way usually reserved for television talent shows. 24 short plays by new writers are performed and the audience decides which eight plays go through to the final. The official winner is decided by a panel of experts, which this year includes playwright Moira Buffini, director Nigel Douglas, novelist Robert Rigby and West End producer Andrew William Robb.
The first of the six was Welcome to Quiz Night. The premise is a quiz with no participants and a quizmaster who insists on going ahead by forcing the only man in the pub to compete. Writer John Moorhouse creates a good comic situation, but seems to find it difficult to expand on.
We are told that Chantelle Claire-Walsh’s The Teacher Who Loved Me is "a surreal self-affirming drama about a girl’s affinity for a distinguished teacher" and this description turns out to be useful because otherwise the point of the production might be lost. Apart from that taken straight from Shakespeare, the dialogue is terrible and the play is made up of a quick succession of scenes so short they lack substance. The relationship between the teacher and the pupil is strange and irritating.
This Just In, written and directed by Darren Murphy, is an intelligent comment on media hype and manipulation. The characters, a newsreader and a reporter repeat themselves constantly. At first amusing - similar in tone to Chris Morris’s The Day Today - the play gradually becomes an illustration of how different panics occur in society, the problems with 24-hour news and the moral responsibility of the media. The acting, by Denise Stephenson and Tim Lewis, is superbly convincing and the whole production is slick and professional.
A bugaboo is "an object of obsessive, usually exaggerated, fear or anxiety", and at first it seems an incongruous title for Christine Roberts’ play. Bugaboo initially appears to be the tale of a young man who lives with his amusingly dull and gossiping parents right but as it goes on the play darkens. The relationship between the son and his parents becomes claustrophobically close until a final twist reveals that all is not what it seems.
The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner is an old-fashioned comedy written by Tim Downie. This is a world where witches put curses on people and secretaries wear short skirts and it’s good fun - a word you certainly couldn’t use for any of the other plays being performed the night I attended Off Cut. There are too many unnecessary characters in Downie’s play and the storyline and humour are quite basic but it gets laughs and there’s much to said for that.
Singers, written by Louise Gooding, is set in a future world where the power has gone out. There are three characters, none of whom are particularly likeable. Gooding excels at grit and this is no exception. There is good urban dialogue and high drama, but the plot is confusing and it feels more like a scene within a whole rather than a self-contained work.
- by Joanna Ing