Arts Review: STaG New Works

STaG, Websters Theatre, 17th-19th February

Wednesday

STaG’s “New Works” Festival is a fabulous celebration of new writers, with 6 plays performed over the course of 3 days. I’m here on the second night of the festival and it is encouraging to see the venue is packed: it’s completely sold out, we’re told.

First up is Conor O’Donnelly’s A Small Act of Kindness, a story of interrogation, violence and unexpected kindnesses in Stalinist Russia. Ivan, a secret police officer must interrogate suspect Antonia, but is unwilling to torture her, as his moral code was forever changed during the war when his life was saved by a German soldier.

The main issue with this play is that the plot keeps taking ever more implausible twists. Antonia tells Ivan the father of her children is a man named Leon, then another officer comes in and when he leaves she announces dramatically: “That was Leon. He must have been using a different name with me.” The audience are left confused, wondering what on earth is going on, and why this is important.  It basically isn’t.  In general the dialogue feels stilted and underwritten, though it is saved slightly by the high quality of the acting.

Jack Cameron’s Work in Progress however is something completely different. A witty, fast paced yet still thought provoking comedy about the frustrations of writers block, this is a delight to watch. A team of writers must write a play in 50 minutes, or else resort to the dreaded “Plan B” – “you don’t want to know what it is, but it’s really, really bad”. The acting is impeccable, and really brings Cameron’s play into full bodied, vivacious life.  This meta-play really pokes fun at theatrical conventions, especially at the end, when “Plan B” turns out to be a laugh at the expense of a certain type of contemporary theatre –  a ridiculous interpretative dance in underwear involving party poppers.

Overall a great night, providing some quality procrastination from essay writing. Once again, STaG have impressed – look out for some of these guys in the future.

Thursday

The final night of the festival begins with Delphi written by Sine Harris. This short piece is based around the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece. Theocyles (Robert McGovern) seeks answers about his destiny from Sibyl (Cait Lennox). The play consists of the dialogue between the two of them on the three occasions he visits her. The performance makes innovative use of props, costume and design. The script contains some informed and witty references to Greek mythology, although this is somewhat held back by jokes that don’t quite seem to fit in with the scene. Despite little plot development or substance, it provides a satisfying introduction to the night and is warmly received by the audience.

The longer play chosen to appear tonight is Kelpie by Ross Wylie. The performance showacses a professional standard of acting, notably from John Calum Whyte as Tommy and Sarah Gibbon as Broomy Knowes. The plot centres around a group of friends coming to terms with the suicide of their flatmate. Tommy has relinquished his life out of unrequited love for a man named Matthew whom we never meet. The scriptwriting reveals the various relationships and history between the friends in a compelling way that becomes increasingly thought-provoking as the play moves on. Whyte is a remarkably engaging actor and gives us a commendable performance of the dramatic monologue that portrays Tommy’s diary entries. Gibbon’s performance is equally outstanding. Her other-worldly expression, appearance and performance alternately electrify and chill the audience as she reveals her psychotic hobby of photographing bodies at the moment of death. Through her dramatic monologue and latterly during her interrogation by Tommy’s friends, she gives the play a gothic edge and her encounter with Tommy’s ghost sent shivers down the spine.

This is a thoughtful play that successfully explored depression and suicide as well as ideas of true love and moral principle. This is definitely a play with the capacity to teach us something and fortunately on this occasion, this was enhanced by the wonderful actors. Congratulations to Ross Wylie for a unique and interesting play.

[Alice Lannon {Wednesday}; Kathy Carr {Thursday}]

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