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Hotbed 2012 reveals new writing and acting talent

This year’s Hotbed festival of new writing, hosted by Menagerie Theatre at The Junction, Cambridge between 26 and 29 January had at least one jewel in its crown. Pat Kinevane’s Silent, performed by the author and directed by Jim Culleton is one such, first seen in Edinburgh last year. There’s always much debate about the merits of what appears at the Edinburgh Fringe. and it often feels as though much of the festival’s output is anarchic for anarchy’s sake. Not however in this case.

Silent is one man’s journey from a chaotic if relatively secure childhood through familial bereavement, relationship breakdown, mental illness, homelessness, and finally a lonely and undignified death on the harsh streets of Dublin. For a one-man show to last for 75 minutes and to captivate and keep an audience engaged for that length of time is a feat in itself.

Tino McGoldrig’s sobering story of loss, despair and dispossession is one that sits easily on the ear if not the conscience; Kinevane’s work – part stand-up, part interpretive dance, part performance poetry and a liberal sprinkling of mime – has a genuine impact on the even the most robust psyche. McGoldrig’s odyssey is framed beautifully by an uncredited arid set, but there is sometimes a sense that even the small amount of detritus apparent detracts from Tino’s soft and yet powerful voice.

His irreverent jibes at mental health services nonsensical bureaucracy – “If you’re suffering from a multiple personality disorder, please press 2,3,4,5 and 6” – do not go amiss and lull the audience into a false security, almost blinding us to the character's uncontrolled descent from urban philosopher to vagrant.

The same laconic delivery of the many incompetent suicide attempts of Tino’s gay brother Pearse offers the audience an opportunity to wince at the gallows humour but the incidents – and their inevitable conclusion – remain profoundly moving as even this horrific episode is told with wry absurdity and a stateliness that Kinevane exudes throughout. Silent is truly a vitally important piece of theatre that will surely have a life beyond the festival circuit.

By necessity, the Hotbed festival is not a place for fully-formed, full-length plays. You’re far more likely to find works in progress – literary hors d'oeuvres before the main courses that will often follow. Indeed, the festival is a melange of different lengths and styles, offering the audience a taste of what the writer or devisers are capable of.

Chris O’Connell’s Forgive Our Paranoia chills from the start with its uncompromising, almost Bergmanesque, atmosphere. Three people, Beth (Bethan Walker), Joy (Emma Beattie), and Joy’s boyfriend, Ashley (Jon Bonnici), find themselves on an unnamed and desolate beach somewhere on the East Anglian coast. A stay in a nearby holiday cottage had seemed like a good idea following Beth’s mental breakdown. However, rather than aid her recovery, circumstances conspire to push Beth further towards the edge. A fourth character, David, played by Jay Villiers, and an inexplicably battered deckchair seem to act as catalysts to damage Beth’s psyche even further.

But there are some uncomfortable questions to ask O’Connell: is the David character really necessary to the plot? After all, Beth’s rationality already seems to be on a hair-trigger at her discovery of the deckchair and, rather than just toss the wretched thing in the nearest bin, there seems to be an undue element of conjecture about how it got to be that way. Director Patrick Morris wrings beautifully crafted performances from his cast but there are more questions than answers to O’Connell’s story.

Benjamin Askew’s Necessary Evil  is a case of what you see is what you get and all the better for its simplicity. It is 1647 and the self-proclaimed Witchfinder-General Matthew Hopkins, who was genuinely a terror-bringer across the east of England is now in captivity himself– already dying from tuberculosis – and ironically sharing a cell with one of the women whom he has accused, Lizzie Malkin.

It is an exquisite two-hander in which Askew explores dogma and delusion in both victim and perpetrator, seamlessly weaving together the language style of the 21st Century with that of the 17th. While he is an experienced young actor, Askew’s career as a playwright has been relatively short, but work of this quality should surely provide a route to even more prestigious work in the future.

There are mesmerising performances by Richard Bremner and Laura Pyper who are ably directed by Jacqui Honnes-Martin. Absolutely sublime theatre.

Piglet by Ed Harris is a two-hander with some sparkling dialogue, faultless performances and direction (by Paul Bourne). That’s a lot of potentially interesting elements but, no conclusion to its journey. An artist (Pieter Lawman) buys an Old Master for just over five million dollars and plans to destroy it, thereby increasing its intrinsic value.

However, arguably the story isn’t really here but rather in the relationship he has with his girlfriend, the eponymous Piglet, played by Kate Malyon. Domestic violence is implied and yet never fully revealed, along with several other story strands with which we are tantalised but ultimately denied. Harris clearly has a fascinating voice as an author but Piglet seems rushed and in need of some polish and a little more structure.


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