Danny Pegg enjoyed Smorgasbord which delivers what its name promises – a variety of the newest writing in Cambridge, a mixed bag of gems and bum notes.
Ten minutes or less, scenes or whole plays, rough drafts or finished scripts – you know what you are in for when you go to The Fletcher Players’ and Shadwell Society’s Smorgasbord.
The focus here is on the writing and none of the actors were expected to have a fully polished performance prepared, using scripts for the duration. Before looking at each piece in turn, Rhodri Hughes most certainly gets a special mention for his enthusiastic compering, keeping the whole piece together and moving along nicely.
First up was Joseph McGuchan‘s Drunk. A scene of potentially a longer work according to Joseph, Drunk gives us two inebriated students talking about the universe, life and rubbish in equal proportions. Whilst it earned its laughs (thanks to Matt Gurtler and Louis Norris, not the script) it did not seem to be saying anything nearly as profound as perhaps Joseph would have liked it to. A longer play with this as a section might make more sense – but I wouldn’t bank on it. 2/5 stars
This was followed by Una McAllister‘s Right Place Wrong Time introducing us to the true story of journalist Claire Hollingworth. The subject was interesting – Claire (Kate Emden – not her best performance of the night) ends up going to Poland and is the first person to report the beginning of WWII – however, the scene we saw of stilted flirting and unconvincing period acting did not sell it very well, even if the narration by an older Claire (Xelia Mendes-Jones) was an interesting device. It certainly seems like a full play of Right Place Wrong Time might redeem this – let’s hope Una gives it a bash! 3/5 stars
Eimear Ryan Charleton‘s Oppression was hilarious. From audience reaction alone, this was by far the funniest piece of the evening, with strong dialogue, consisting of an Irish family slating the English whilst somehow not seeming tired. It is a shame that she does not have anything longer planned! 4/5 stars
Stefan’s Story by Saskia Bayliss was the standout piece of the evening. A powerful monologue from the perspective of a soldier finding love in his superior officer in the trenches reflecting on his personal tragedy compared with how ‘easy’ it is comparably for modern day same-sex couples. Louis Norris gave the dramatic performance of the evening. Whilst monologues suffer from the curse of telling and not showing, Stefan’s Story has much potential to be part of something larger or be lengthened itself. Please, Saskia! 4/5 stars
The Power to Move People by Eli Keren, despite the author’s insistence, could be a very strong scene (with needed context and explanation) in a bigger play. Consisting of a couple discussing their polar views on love and how powerful the phrase ‘I love you’ may or may not be, it would be a shame of this stayed as merely ‘that thing Eli wrote when he became single’. Helen Vella Taylor showed herself off here too, and with only a few lines at that. 3/5 stars
Lana Crowe and Rosie Best‘s Waiting For Bog Roll was a simple situation: two guys stuck in the toilet without any toilet roll, forced to talk to each other. Forgiving Rhodri Hughes‘ very strange directorial addition of toilet roll to a story that required none, Waiting For Bog Roll wasn’t bad for the first thing these two have ever written. The two should write more, but leave this one on the cutting room floor: the dialogue was plain and the humour was, well, toilet humour. 2/5 stars
A Dystopian encounter with a homeless Donald Trump, Olivia Gillman‘s Rise and Fall was not up to the comparison to Black Mirror that the author made. The unnecessary futuristic language, the lack of any real interesting political satire and the overall lack of a point made this perhaps the clunkiest piece of the evening, not giving the poor actors much to work with. Maybe it could be reworked as a skit for gag potential, but I wouldn’t bother. 2/5 stars
Natasha King showed off her dialogue writing well in Estates. A new-world president-to-be meets a woman who wants to be his new campaign manager in a bar, and whilst the ‘near-future’ element didn’t seem very necessary in this snippet, the scene overall seemed very close to one that could appear in a finished longer piece soon. Helen Vella Taylor performed well in the piece and given more rehearsal time and some more direction, should be kept for this – if Natasha is willing! 3/5 stars
Soldier Soldier by Robbie Taylor Hunt was an unfortunate bum note to end the evening on. Whilst we were told the scene was part of a bigger piece that involved some actual soldiers, the scene that we were presented with between a home-husband and a high-powered woman at a dinner party seemed confused. There were funny quips but it appears Robbie has the idea much clearer in his head. Maybe a second run at it would help the audience to see that picture, whatever it may be. 2/5 stars
Overall an enjoyable evening, Smorgasbord is a great way of showing new writing talent in the city and I certainly will be going to the next one.