DDF Day 2 Reviewed
John Muething peruses the plays on offer on the third night of the Durham Drama Festival
Shellshock’s Improvised Tragedy
The Improvised Tragedy, as the title clearly states, attempts to perform a full length tragedy, or as they put it, a black comedy, made up entirely on the spot. The show began with the audience’s suggestions for occupations for each character, ranging from florist to sex worker, and then for the tragic problem, ranging from natural disaster to bad luck.
What followed was a chaotic mix of scenes which slowly staggered unwillingly to the end more because of their time limit than any natural conclusion to the story.
The main problem was that the ensemble did not seem to be working together at all. No sooner after one character would make a startling discovery about the haunted, panda-eating, yellow Honda than another character would change direction and pull us back to where we were. For example, the paleontologist finds some bones which one character describes as bear shaped. “A clue,” the audience all thinks. “Yes its a strange disease that morphs bones into strange shapes,” says another. And we’re back to square one.
Even at the end, the cast could not decide whether the car was actually haunted or not. All of this caused the show to drag and judging by the sound of rustling seats toward the end, I don’t think I was the only one getting restless for a conclusion.
Taking the scenes out of context, though, and they were actually quite funny with one liners aplenty. Alison Ewan’s panda sex-worker, was always able to set the audience off. (“Cats get stuck in trees. Pandas get stuck in pandas.”) Greg Smith as well not only sold the character of crazy fireman who’d never put out a fire, but was the one defining force in keeping the show on path to an eventual ending.
Overall, I think the comedy was there, but the cast needs a bit more work before they can truly pull off a full length play.
Marshmallows is a fifteen minute play about three boys having a final campout together before leaving for uni. More importantly though, its an honest discussion about the problems faced by teenage guys and their relationships with their fathers.
The problems faced by the boys are typical and unsurprising: divorce, disappointed parents, coming out; but the understated way in which they are discussed and the minimal blocking makes us feel as if we are sitting around the fire as well, and makes us relate to each one of them.
All three actors deserve a special mention for their performance. Mike Clarke’s Warren showed a clear and smooth transition between the banterous jokes of friends and the argumentative tone while discussing his father. Russell Park kept his character, Damon, from being a stereotypical gay guy while still allowing the revelation to feel honest. Finally, Michael Earnshaw was able to tread the fine line between simple pathos and an overly whiney teenager.
This is not to say the show was without fault. The little movement that did happen was at times awkward and distracting. There was a moment when Luke stood up to walk away from the fire, but ended up standing behind the other two in full light. The emotional climaxes for each character were a bit forced. And the entirety of the script felt rushed, but I guess that’s the nature of such a short piece.
Although not completely unique, the play is of a rare breed, where true emotions between male characters are the driving force. It was truly refreshing to see something so real and down to earth.
The 24 Hour Musical (One Play More)
I must begin this review by stating that I am fairly partial to musicals, and I think this piece was directly aimed at someone like me. A few minutes before the show was about to start. A little over a dozen people wandered into the theatre in their DDF shirts and sat randomly spaced amongst the audience. Not suspicious at all. Then an announcement came over the system stating that it was intermission for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s final great musical, “One Play More”, and that all reviewers should move to the break room. All the cast moved to the stage and what followed was a mix and match of Weber’s greatest hits, with new (and more entertaining) lyrics.
Ignoring the fact that the show was completely put together in 24 hours, it would still be impressive and very entertaining. With that fact in mind, each of the tiny mistakes made become not only forgivable but part of the fun. For example, between Julia Loveless’s two beautifully performed songs about her descent into become an old cat lady, (both from the musical Cats, what else) a little disorganization caused the second song to begin not with a lyric, but with the most applauded line of the night, “We just have to get some music sorted out here.”
Two other names are worth mentioning. Andy Savill’s solos to open and close both were well sung and warranting quite a few laughs. And, because my housemate found his Enrique Iglesias impression the best part of the show, Joe Leather deserves a nod as well.
I could go on to list all the other mistakes, but to be honest it was hard at times to tell what was a gaff and what was an intentional goof. And to be honest, it didn’t matter. The quick paced, seemingly random series of events kept the audience engaged and laughing the whole time. Twenty-four hours isn’t enough time for me to finish a summative so it is truly impressive that someone would think to do a whole musical, but the entire cast and team pulled it off with ease.