After “A Single Act” last year, Duelling Productions are back and are dipping their toe into the unknown waters of new writing with The McConnell New Writing Fund. Four emerging writers and directors came together to create the showcase, which ran on the 25th and 26th of March at Theatro Technis in Camden. The weekend’s plays all took their cue from the same cue word: power, seen in all its manifestations.
“The Angel of Peckham”, a verbatim piece by Clare Reddaway, wasn’t the smoothest start to the evening. With leading lady Linda John-Pierre in a safety-pinned dress, still clutching hold of her script and leaving echoing pauses in dialogue, it didn’t inspire confidence. This was a shame for John-Pierre, whose nicely commanding voice could have done with an emotional depth that maybe would have come with more familiarity. She was admirably helped out by a three-person Chorus, who, (though rendering life to what otherwise would have been a monologue) in some bizarre direction from Matthew Iliffe, ricocheted through a series of unfortunate impressions, with variable accents galore and even a few panto-worthy moments. Behind all of this, there was a good story; the sudden fall from grace of Camila Batmanghelidgh and her charity Kids Company, “one of the great scandals of 2015”. However, the script, despite flashes of fun, didn’t give us a huge amount of either scandal or greatness. Reddaway refuses to pick a side, which leaves the piece unclear dramatically, and it drifts from plot point to impersonation a little aimlessly.
Conor Carroll’s “It Is So Ordered”, directed by Lucy Curtis, was the second offering of the night, and proved itself the most current and topical of the plays, despite being set in the ‘60s. A story of police prejudice against black men and one child’s words twisted by the world, there was a subtlety and genuine feeling to the writing, which a truly dynamic duo of actors (and a powerhouse performance from Simon Mokhele as Johnny) executed with aplomb. Portraying everything from childhood innocence, to bone-deep regret, to casual hilarity, Mokhele and Joseph Adelakun were immediately and consistently captivating, and, though the speed at which information is hurled out meant that the story became a little puzzling at times, their confident and emotional performances were a wonderful anchor. There was a lot in there, and the narrative felt ripe for more digging; somewhere in here there is a full-length play, or even a film. I hope Carroll considers expanding his characters and his story so that we can see and hear more from him.
Next was “A Government Warning” by Christine Roberts, a funny creature all round. Despite an engaging script and strong performances from both Andrew Horton as Jim and Chloe Anna Wilcox as Mel, I failed – similarly, I feel, to many of the audience members around me – to move past the overwhelming feeling of being brutally dressed down for twenty minutes. The unrelenting battery from onstage as the actors addressed every syllable directly to the audience (a strange feature present throughout the entire night, which became a touch exhausting) veered swiftly into the preachy and the predictable, despite some lyrical touches in the script. It’s always risky to openly loathe your audience, and, along with some half-hearted direction, there wasn’t enough behind the loathing in Roberts’ script to elucidate any empathy or encouragement from us behind the swiftly disappearing fourth wall. It wasn’t so much of a warning as a rant, with heavy dashes of the petulant. All of Roberts’ extremely pertinent points were lost; I wanted to see the relationships between the characters, not between them and me.
The final showing was Steven Fraser’s “I Remember”, possibly the strongest (though the most unconventional) piece in the set, and it certainly made the evening go out with a bang. The play is composed of poetic but scattered diary entries written by John, a man suffering from Asperger’s, and under David Loumgair’s direction it becomes an abstract and arresting emotional explosion, more poetry than play. Aisling Fahey was a pulsing ball of electric rhetorical energy on stage, spitting and swinging her way through the text with a rhythm that could not be dampened, even by a small technical failure. Her impressive background in performance poetry meant that she was an utterly magnetic presence, and held the room tightly within the story, seemingly crafting John’s looping narrative before our eyes. Jamie Scott-Smith backed up Fahey masterfully on various instruments, building an ever more discordant and bewildering musical backdrop to John’s escalating stream of consciousness, where confusion is following immediately by revelation. The play became a hymn to an atypical brain, a wonderful picture of a chaotic but strangely ordered mind. We get sucked into a whirlpool of images, thoughts and feelings, all the time wanting to hear more, and why, and how.
The night was not fine-tuned – unsurprising given the short rehearsal time and pop-up nature of the showcase – but despite mixed moments, there was plenty in there to relish, and it was a successful step in a new direction for Duelling Productions. It was a wonderful initiative from the company to give a platform to new faces and new voices – something that is all too lacking in the wider industry.