Arts

Origins @ Nottingham Playhouse

Produced by Act 2 and the Nottingham Playhouse, ‘Origins’ was a showcase for local Nottingham writers, having first drafts of their newest work performed as staged readings by actors who had only familiarized themselves with the script a few hours earlier. While it’s no doubt meant to be entertaining, this production is designed to primarily provide feedback to the writer above all else. Logan Wamsley, a student playwright himself, outlines his assessments below.

Bad Blood

Coming back home from University, young Imran (Bhavin Bhatt) has a plan to make it big in the world–to save his parents’ shop while buying himself a private island to live like Scarface. With his friend, Adil (Bhawna Bhawsar, bringing the old “village idiot” role to the 21st century, for better or worse), Imran steals expired meat and package it as “Halal”, setting Bad Blood’s bizarre chain of events into motion. It’s strange how isolated one can feel in large crowds. Watching this new play by Hugh Dichmont, I felt like the loneliest man on the planet as the audience surrounding me howled in laughter watching the on-stage hijinks. A joke would breeze by and, as if on cue, the audience would roar, while I’d just stare dumbstruck. Had I become the type of highbrow theatre snob I used to bemoan? The play’s first 15 minutes offered some light satire on Muslim customs and stereotypes, but what began as something of substance devolved rapidly into the realms of daytime sitcom. When actors weren’t liberally fishing for laughs, they were stuck reciting seemingly endless filler-anecdotes that may or may not resolve themselves. Unfortunately, Blood’s final 20 minutes detour into a bizarro-world when the hijinks devolve into blood, slit throats, and (in a bewildering parody of Spring Awakening that comes from nowhere) ghosts. This script is in desperate need of a cut – and generous seasoning. A man slitting a woman’s throat and chopping her body into digestible cuts isn’t going to create laugh lines no matter how you slice it.

The Visit

The Visit by Subika Anwar begins in a very promising fashion. Victor (Jonny McClean), a quiet, slightly-goofy security guard with a dark past, spends his rainy days playing video games and watching cameras for a psych ward until a “chance” encounter with a young woman named Kat (Sharan Phull), supposedly there to visit her uncle. The small talk they make over coffee is sweet and rife with subtle subtext, gradually increasing in tension as delicate subjects are touched on and shrugged off. While the occasional cliché is uttered as backstories are discussed (“I feel like I’ve known you all my life”), Anwar certainly seems to have an ear for natural dialogue capable of immersing an audience even with limited physical action. The Visit, though, is truly marred by the 2nd half when all the cards are put on the table. As Victor begins to dig deep into his past as a soldier in Afghanistan, The Visit begins to lose focus on its characters in favour of political preaching. While the horrors of war and ethnic relations are no doubt important to Anwar, explicitly yelling them for 20-plus minutes with little personal (or unique) introspection is a good way to lose your audience. Unfortunately Kat’s big reveal is clearly foreshadowed, checking every obvious plot point as it chugs toward its climax. And when the climax is reached, the play’s momentum reaches an absolute standstill. Kat cries, Victor cries back, and both stare at each other in a Mexican-standoff (complete with gun-waving) for an eternity with no ultimate payoff. Anwar would do well to incorporate that flair for subtlety she shows in the exposition more consistently throughout the production, because she certainly has a story worth telling.

Stasis

By far the highlight of the night, Stasis by Emily Holyoake tells the story of Ren (Sylvia Renson), a young woman who, on impulse, stowaways on a spaceship going on a 2-year mission. Why? Because she wanted to tell her friend the captain she was sorry (for what is never revealed). Obviously she’s not the most forward thinker in the world. Getting out of the cargo bay, she finds the entire crew on the brink of death. To save their life, she drags them into “stasis cubes” where they can remain in suspended animation until medical help comes–after the mission. The play is the chronicle of Ren waiting for the ship to get home–entirely alone with nothing but a hologram AI to keep her company. While seemingly dull in concept, Holyoake manages to weave a spellbinding narrative saturated with imagination, sincerity, and (crucially) a touch of deadpan humour. The hologram (a versatile Michael Radford) has a fascinating ability to upload the “data files” of the suspended crew members, allowing them to “live” through the hologram and interact with Ren. This unique role, which requires Radford to play a daunting five separate characters–each with their own easily-distinguishable personality quirks (such as a dust-obsessed pilot, a bubbly computer programmer, and a grumpy medic). Many would consider that an actor’s dream. Stasis never coddles the audience, yet it drips information consistently enough to where they never feel lost in the science fiction Holyoake deftly navigates. There are a few too many individual throw-away scenes however (made worse by the fact that the stage directions were read out loud, beginning each new scene with “Day” or “Night”–an odd scriptural quirk considering the play’s in outer space). Some scenes last only seconds, and onstage I feel that the constant transitions might ruin immersion. Also, unfortunately most of the well-defined “hologram characters” only get one real scene to shine–having a longer runtime would allow Ren to establish deeper relationships with each of them, and make the melancholy conclusion all the more poignant. If any play could benefit from a 2 (or even 3) act structure, this would be it. I honestly expect big things from this play.

Logan Wamsley

This performance was part of the NEAT14 Festival.

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