Arts Review: New Works 2017


STAG, Websters Theatre, 15th – 17th Feb

Websters Theatre is the perfect setting in which to immerse yourself in STAG’s New Works series. A converted church on the Great Western Road containing both a quaint, cosy bar and a surprisingly minimalist theatre, it personifies the playful, slightly surreal spirit of the opening night.

Kirsty McAdam’s The Country Fair was a charming and darkly comic portrait of a village gripped by a mystery involving foul play on a backdrop of prize marrows and 50-foot floral effigies of Clare Balding. The actors’ comic timing and the use of visual humour was faultless, and the audience’s reaction reflected this. The characterisation was also fantastic, with set of twins played by one actress and the potentially murderous vegan deli owner being a particular highlight. The play’s climax involved a prize dairy cow made of butter, an appropriately farcical ending. This conclusion unfortunately came a little too quickly, leaving the audience slightly unsatisfied, as a result of the time limit imposed on the play.

The 50-minute play was All Hail The Big Bopp by Anna Saxberg, an apocalyptic tale appropriate for the current political climate. Again, the standard of the acting was outstanding, with each actor taking on several distinct roles. The Professor’s breezy indifference in the face of certain death was particularly well-done, making the moment when the destructive nature of the asteroid is revealed to the characters especially satisfying and funny. Every twist and turn of the plot seemed to raise the stakes, heightening both the drama for the characters and the humour for the audience. Both plays however showed evidence of restricted time for rehearsals, and there were some problems with missed cues and mistakes in lines, but generally this was not an issue.

Following the two terrifically entertaining productions in night one of STAG’s New Works 2017 cannot have been an easy task, and yet night two surpassed all expectations. The night’s 20-minute show sucked in its audience with an audacious amount of puns, a melodramatic bloodthirsty antagonist (extravagantly portrayed by Ewan Shand) and an endearing Meat Loaf-loving boyfriend. And it did it so very well. Meeting your significant other’s friends can be daunting enough but Samuel Scott’s Come Die With Me upped the ante when one of these friends has recently returned from a trip to Romania, looking like a pale, apprehensive Bat Out of Hell. If he left for this trip just like any other white millennial interrailing their way to an unsightly beard and a compilation of “when I was in Prague…” anecdotes compact enough to fit in their bum bag, he certainly hasn’t returned like one. An already awkward occasion turning into a bloodbath with great scenes reminiscent of Rocky’s warm up, this is a very humorous piece.

The second show of the night couldn’t really have been further from what we’d just experienced. Whilst Agnes Checka’s Leaving Heartland included some unexpected humour at times, it was overall a sentimental piece, with an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-esque sci-fi/wistful blend. Dealing with heavy themes and playing on the audience’s heartstrings, the acting of Jenny Barron and Anna Rattray, portraying lifelong friends Hazel and Arden, truly goes beyond what one expects of student theatre. The use of music and lighting encouraged the overall heavy and nostalgic feel of the production, which took an excellent premise and executed it with style, wit and emotion.

The closing night of STAG’s New Works Festival 2017 treated the audience to two rather surreal pieces of drama. In an attempt to explore the theatrical potential of puppets, Chris Duffy’s An Ordinary Life told the tale of Tim, a small puppet living a cyclical humdrum story of solitude. The show revolved around Tim’s routine: get up, go to work, come home, find solace in a bottle, go to sleep, repeat. The most impressive aspect of the show was undoubtedly the activity of the puppeteers slowly moving Tim around the stage. At first I thought the profession that “three’s a crowd” might be suiting here but in fact they moved with such ease and grace around the stage, creating a majestic synergy between puppeteer, puppet and audience. The idleness of the movement and the plot tiptoes on the border of the mundane which the play itself explores, yet the constant use of sound effects saved the show from overstepping into the seeming dullness of Tim’s life.

From a dispiriting investigation of the everyday, Ryan Rutherford’s God Ltd certainly brings the audience up to the spirit in the sky. Following three angels in heaven getting up to no good on The Big G’s day off, the audience is treated to this laugh-a-minute, at times risqué piece which satirizes the idea of humans’ prayers actually being answered in the Sunday Department. With an excellent use of space, coming out into the audience and uttering dialogue from the wings, and likeable angels delivering both camp and irreverent humour, the show is the perfect ending to the three-day festival, and would be fitting on a bigger stage, beyond the walls of Webster’s Theatre.
[Imogen Whiteley and Ellen Magee]

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