This is Black Festival, The Bunker

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by Romy Foster

This is Black is a festival of new writing by black writers curated by director/writer/creative producer Steven Kavuma. It feels like so much more than just any other festival. The event consists of two double bills that alternate performances and are followed by a DJ set every Friday and Saturday night.

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Queer Upstairs, Royal Court

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By Gregory Forrest

‘Stonewall was a riot, not a rainbow’ says the placard on my newsfeed.

Fifty years on from that night, riots which poured gasoline onto the gay rights movement, these six short plays in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs is a sign of how far we have come, and how far we have left to go.

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War Plays, Tristan Bates Theatre

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by an anonymous guest critic

Kali Theatre, a company dedicated to providing exciting opportunities for female theatre directors and leading roles for South Asian actors, have produced a series of readings inspired by women’s experiences in conflict zones. This is a beautiful evening of moving and poignant works-in-progress depicting the atrocity of war crimes and the ongoing realities of their victims’ lives.

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Manwatching, Royal Court

An anonymous woman frankly monologues about taboo sexual fantasies, abortion, orgasms and what turns her on. It’s honest, personal and as a fellow woman, easy to relate to. But rather than a woman performing the text, Funmbi Omotayo is given the script onstage having never read it before. The experiment to explore the effects of a man delivering a woman’s words on female sexuality has good intentions, but it doesn’t work. Most of the content is common female experience, and there is no primary narrative thread. The reading is often clumsy and flat and with little to look at, the piece lacks much of a dynamic.

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RED Women’s Theatre Awards, Greenwich Theatre

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This year sees the launch of a new playwriting competition, RED Women’s Theatre Awards. Co- produced by Edinburgh-based academic and playwright Effie Samara, Greenwich Theatre and Female Arts, the awards are “aimed at anyone who identifies as female who has an inspirational, questioning and challenging social and political voice.” There are three regional heats in the competition; the first was at Greenwich Theatre with staged readings of four plays. Completely differing in tone and style and at various stages of development, this heat showcases the huge variety of female voices in English playwriting.

I spoke to founder Effie Samara about the awards and her reason for founding them.

What do you hope to achieve with these awards?

When I first spoke about RED to James Haddrell, Artistic Director of Greenwich Theatre, I must admit, I was dreading that it was going to achieve absolutely nothing. As a theatre artist, he engages with that female-led theatre aesthetic by producing Broken Leg, Smooth-Faced Gents and now RED. Is he a revolutionary? I think he is. Is he an exception? He is a valiant exception but we are actually witnessing the beginning of an epoch in politics and in theatre. They follow each other. My view is that the State, its governance, its justice, its policing, its education and its performativity are about to undergo a female-authored revolution. RED positions itself at the forefront of this development.

What criteria did you use when selecting plays for the heat?

The award is for political theatre. Our first concern was to ensure the writer’s engagement with the notions of justice, resistance and her ability to problematise those dramatically.

RED Theatre Awards currently cover the south of England, Wales and Scotland. What are your plans for expansion in the rest of England? Is N. Ireland a goal as well?

Northern Ireland is absolutely a goal. In the first instance, we’re including N. Ireland in the Scottish round. We can’t wait to hear some loud Irish voices! Scotland is also underrepresented on a national level.      

What can theatre makers do now to counteract the gender disparity?

The solution is very simple and I’m afraid it begins with us women. Us, being able to handle our own freedom: express it in the ownership of our person, define it in politics, and dramatise it in our consciousness and on stage. Women who robotically follow institutional missions fuel that gender disparity through their own complicity with these structures. Numbers are on our side in this argument: There are a lot of us. Over 3 billion. If we meant business, if we did this together, actioning solidarity within our cause, this injustice could be culled in no time.

What message do you want to communicate with the RED awards?

Words are loaded pistols. And we, women, can cock a gun way better than any establishment pointing one at us. Throughout the history of humankind we have been told we’re not allowed to fathom our own course, to govern our own person, our own body, its production and reproduction. RED is here to provide a platform for women.

The four plays selected for this heat are Under My Thumb by Cassiah Joski-Jethi, Spurn the Dust by Sian Rowland, Dissonance by Isabella Javor and Gone by Kate Webster. Some are more blatantly topical that others, some look at broader female issues and group dynamics. All are short plays with potential for development and by female voices that have a lot to say.

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Skyline, Ugly Duck

rsz_278df7cf00000578-3032452-image-m-8_1429115791409It’s panto season, and our stages are filled with villains, heroes and dames. Playwright David Bottomley’s new work-in-progress has some passing resemblance to the characters in Britain’s traditional seasonal offerings, but his new play on the London housing crisis is darker, angering fare. Capturing its victims’ lack of power and its perpetuators’ greed, Skyline doesn’t offer a solution but still states a clear opinion on the issue. With a cast of five playing seven characters, the audience sees a microcosmic cross section of social classes who, with poetic and pointed language, are a powerful reminder of the importance of secure housing. There is still some work to be done on the script, but the staged reading in conjunction with a pre-show talk and an exhibition by Alternative Press makes a powerful point that something needs to change to prevent social cleaning through housing policy in London.

Bottomley has a clear gift with words. There’s a subtle poetry that effectively captures his characters’ feelings, laying them exposed and raw for the taking. There could be more differentiation between their rhythms and word choices, though. Drag queen Roxanne’s (Paul L. Martin) closing monologue is similar to that of unemployed single dad and grandfather from Africa, Rex (Kevin Golding). His 28-year-old daughter Tanya (Adelaide Obeng) occasionally sounds like her Tory MP Francesca (Karen Hill). He does well to go against stereotypes, but there’s a middle ground between them and homogenisation that hasn’t been completely reached yet.

His most complex character is Francesca. Despite being a Tory who’s having an affair with villainous property developer Jasper (Cameron Robertson), the favours she grants him directly conflict with her instinct to do right by her constituents, and values the old London that Jasper desperately wants to demolish. Her dialogue is occasionally overwritten, but she otherwise feels like a real, well-rounded individual. Jasper does as well, though not to the same extent. He could perhaps do with a touch more humanity to make him less cartoonish, even though there must be people out there as horrible as he is. Rex’s inner anguish erupts in balance to the calmer Tanya, who satisfyingly shows her true feelings in Francesca’s surgery. An interesting experiment would be to explore further integration of these characters: what if Rex and Jasper meet? Tanya and Roxanne? There’s space for more scenes without the play feeling too long.

Skyline has plenty of excellent moments, like the only scene between Jasper and Roxanne (a colourful character that’s underused) that shows how truly horrible Jasper is, and Roxanne’s need for a place she can put down roots. Rex’s desperation and Tanya’s resignation come to a head in a climactic final scene, just after Francesca and Jasper do the same. Even though there’s resolution, Bottomley skilfully alludes to the wider landscape and the struggles countless Londoners face due to the housing crisis in these final scenes. Roxanne’s gorgeous monologue that serves as an epilogue underlines the entire play, but dilutes the power in Tanya and Rex’s scene. It would work well earlier, maybe in the scene between her and Jasper.

Though Skyline is still in its development stage, it is remarkably polished and well-structured. A good cast own Bottomley’s rich language and the call for change is clear but not preachy. Some gentle development will whip this story into an even more powerful piece of political theatre.


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The Great Charter, So & So Arts Club

This year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the document that laid the foundation for modern British democracy. To commemorate the anniversary, Steve Hawes wrote The Great Charter and presented it as a rehearsed staged reading by So & So Arts Club, directed by Sarah Berger.

I was initially wary of the use of a hotel conference room instead of a theatre, but the space worked surprisingly well. A high quality sound system and projector helped contribute to the play’s historical atmosphere and a platform was an effective stage. A grey plinth created another level on the stage and was aptly reminiscent of Richard III’s newly-carved tomb in Leicester Cathedral. Even though stage lighting was used, the entire room’s ceiling lights stayed on, further creating a period-style performance. There was very little interaction between performers and the audience due to the use of scripts, but the potential was there and allowed for a more relaxed, communal theatre experience.

The performers were clearly rehearsed and familiar with the script, showing the beginnings of character development. Ensemble work was minimal, but to be expected considering it was a staged reading. There were some moments of lovely chemistry, such as Sarah Lawrie as outcast leper Alys and Faye Winter as King John’s frustrated queen, Isabella. Winter and Hugh John as William also shared a great scene hinting at their forbidden affair.

Though the reading was directed and performed skilfully, the script let down the evening. The first half was almost completely exposition, building up to King John’s re-crowning before the interval, which was anti-climactic. The characters certainly do a lot of talking, but engage in very little action. Rather than showing us the important events, they are discussed at length with most action happening in between scenes or offstage. Overall, very little actually happens in the two hours’ traffic on our stage, but events are debated and discussed, at length. Fortunately, the scenes are generally short with crisp transitions.

The characters themselves have very little evolution or reasoning behind their choices. King John is clearly a terrible person, but there is never much explanation for his selfish actions, whether it’s taking his friends’ wives for his own use or locking up his wife in a castle for her own “safety.” There is little character development, though potential for plenty: the two most engaging characters, Isabella and Spike, have relatively few scenes and their personal journeys are downplayed. This has the effect of two-demensional characters. Perhaps this play focuses on historical accuracy, but we all know that history is often quite boring. Good historical dramas take plenty of creative license, with necessity. This play needs much more of it. Adding more fights, showing the revolts, and more stage time to the subplots will make the existing story into a much more dramatic piece of theatre.

The reading was a suitable commemoration to the Magna Carta anniversary, but if the play aspires to become a fully staged production, the script will need to be heavily overhauled. A great performance team helped pass the time, but this would not be enough in a full production.


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