first night

Durham Drama Festival 2012 - Opening Night

A strong opening - Two Days From Now; Emeric Fontal; Love/Lust. Anna Gorska reviews...

 Two Days From Now

Two Days From Now was definitely a good choice for the opening performance of this year’s Durham Drama Festival. It’s funny, dynamic and its message is poignantly touching.

Dominic Everett-Riley’s devised piece runs just under an hour and focuses on Craig, the play’s lead portrayed by Joe Burke, finding out that a cupboard in his room enables him to time travel. Craig’s discovery is what ties the show together and propels the plot. Already in the first scene Burke is convincingly astonished and confused by his realisation and throughout the whole performance he manages to keep up this image, with a very graceful and powerful sense of guilt at the very end. Craig’s attempts at making his fellow flatmates understand the gravity of the situation are hilarious and account for the audience’s numerous streams of laughter.

The first one of these occurs in the second scene with Karim Mariey as Stubbsy playing video games. Mariey appears as an Xbox LIVE geek at the very beginning of the show although his character later develops into a more rational and eager maths student, who has a lot more in common with Craig than the audience can guess at first. Nevertheless the scenes with Stubbsy are not the only ones evoking a positive chuckling response from the spectators. The comedy alongside with the overall dynamic of the play are greatly driven by Chris (Chaz Pitman) and Lee (Michael Galea) and their entertaining chat about girls, football, 90% Polish vodka and the frapes they’ve done to their friends the night before.

The actors’ interaction was quick and responsive to one-another. The energetic and lively dialogue only at times suffered from the spontaneous time shifts of Craig’s time travelling, although the constant uncertainty about the day of the week expressed by the characters onstage corresponded well with the audience’s slight bewilderment. This was a male-based show and the short appearance of Craig’s girlfriend Lara (Iona Napier) seemed a bit short and unsatisfactory.

Producing a play with a low festival-budget is never easy. The producer, Ben Weaver-Hincks, did a decent job out of this by having a simplistic set design including a hospital bed, a couch and several empty pizza boxes on stage. This allowed smooth shifts between the time frames of the play’s plot. As time travelling is the main theme of Two Days From Now the recurrent changes between the future in a grim hospital ward and a student apartment in the present were distinct and recognisable. Particularly effective were the light changes indicating the present and the future, resembling Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

As a play Two Days From Now is a bold achievement. The many references to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and its magical cupboard add a supernatural feel to the production, but it does not seem artificial or unrealistic at any point. The deep philosophical dilemma of the play (whether or not to know one’s future) defends itself as a naturally questionable aspect of human existence. The show is dynamic and lively, making the audience laugh every minute, whilst not compromising the overall serious and plaintively moving message. Sometimes the peace lacks spontaneity and at certain points it might be quite hard to distinguish between Craig’s time-travelling episodes inside his apartment, but the show’s dynamic pace manages to keep the audience alert most of the time.

Two Day’s From Now is undeniably setting a high standard for the other upcoming Durham Drama Festival productions. It’s witty, humorous and entertaining to watch, with a convincing and diligently chosen cast. Perhaps these aspects make the earnest subject matter very relatable and moving, with the last few words spoken by Craig (‘just please wake up’) still echoing in your head minutes after the round of applause.

* * * *

 

Emeric Fontal

‘Emeric Fontal is not a dairy coward’ – this is what I found out watching Nicholas Waszkowycz’s piece Emeric Fontal. Whether that’s any good is another thing en.

Waszkowycz’s effort as the playwright and the director is undeniably seen in the carefully plotted mafia underworld story. The show has a reasonably long run - well over an hour. The eponymous character, portrayed by the charismatic Tim Blore, has just finished a three-year long jail sentence for perjury. He struggles to find himself back again amongst the fellow gangsters and is reluctant to go through with their new scheme. Questioning his own conscience and verging on the edge of turning himself in, the audience is made to watch Fontal’s inner moral dilemmas and his struggles with the new leader of the gang, Roquefort (Henry Morris).

The play sets off with an empty stage, later acquiring a clothes rack, table and three chairs. The black curtain and simple bright lighting with occasional spotlights on Fontal all work very well with the Film Noir atmosphere of the piece. Jonathan Vesta, the producer of the show, succeeded in making Emeric Fontal the most props-heavy performance of the first night of DDF. Gadgets such as a globe and metronome along with carefully chosen costumes including cravats, trench coats, fedoras and berets (think 1940s ‘Godfather’ style) agreed with and carefully accentuated the aura of the mafia story.

The storyline was quite complicated and at times very hard to follow with bits disappointingly lagging. The abundant A Clockwork Orange resemblances; illicit substances in match boxes and the use of ‘dairy’ slang were definitely original, but perhaps because of the association with food I did not fully understand the point they were trying to get across. It all seemed very disjointed and innovatively absurdist, but with a full-blown fight appearing in almost every scene, the constant dairy references of cheeses and dolce lattes lost their comic aspect. Some of the Italian connotations did function well with the idea of an Italian mafia, but they weren’t sufficiently developed. Lots of dialogues with actors running into each other’s lines, even more high-pitched screams and far too little action variety (except for Fontal fighting the other gangsters) made the scene changes with ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ playing in the background amusing and entertaining, relieving the over-the-top somberness.

One of the most humorous scenes in the play was the card game between Fontal and Roquefort with Danny (Michael Galea) sitting in the middle of the two. The antagonistic relationship between the main characters and the gang leader was portrayed very persuasively, symbolically sitting on opposite sides of the table. Danny functioned as a comic relief in this scene and the dynamic between the three was just right, resembling a truly Tarantino-like situation.

One of the highlights of the whole evening was Michael Galea’s characterization. Appearing already in the opening play Two Days From Now, he managed to convincingly adapt to the roles of Danny and Padre in Emeric Fontal. Credit should also be given to Adam Kirkbride who played Commissioner Vance, for his grand posture and stentorian voice, both of which effectively suited his role.

Emeric Fontal resembles a daring experiment. And the thing with experiments is that they may have unexpected outcomes, while also being necessary for progress. By the end of the show the audience was unequivocally perplexed. Whether that was an entertaining and absorbing perplexity – I can’t decide. Whether that was the purpose of this performance – I don’t know.

* * *

 

Love/Lust

I’m not a big fan of musicals. They’re often too pompous and exaggerated for my taste. Yet surprisingly Timmy Fisher’s Love/Lust is far from overblown and hyperbolic.

The running time of the performance is quite short, about thirty minutes in total. However, this serves to make the musical compact and succinct and as a consequence the show doesn’t bore its audience for a split second.

Love/Lust starts off with an optimistic melody and the whole piece is filled with jazzy pop songs, undoubtedly being one of strongest aspects of the show. With a small band of three including Chris Guard on the keyboard, Flo Cooper on the bass guitar and Ben Evans on the drums, the musical is remarkably well-accompanied by the two of them onstage. Under a shared direction by Douglas Gibbs, Joe Leather and Charlie Warner, Love/Lust is decently believable and entertaining.

The set design stays unchanged throughout the performance. There’s the band in the middle, a bar on the left and a large double bed on the right. The whole is dimly lit enhancing the sensuous atmosphere of the piece.

Fisher has written and produced the musical, but he has also indisputably made himself a star of the show. It is no surprise that it is he who appears as the first character onstage. With a red apple in his hand (symbol of temptation?) and a casual ‘You alright?’ he makes the audience laugh straight away. We find out that Fisher plays Jamie, a boarding school English boy who decided to go to college in America. Jamie is keen on experiencing a decadent and licentious lifestyle and throughout Love/Lust we see his various encounters with women. As a character Jamie is charming and appealing. His promiscuous habits are supplemented with endearing lyrics of how ‘all guys love cuddles’ and he pulls of a few amusing one-liners. Already the first scene ends with Jamie in bed seducing Lily, played by Izzy Osborne. Jamie’s at times overtly conventional manifestations of ‘when I find the right girl I’m gonna actually try’ are justified with Fisher’s fantastic vocals.

The duet songs weren’t as well synchronised in the beginning of the musical as they were in the second half and unfortunately at times the lyrics were not quite understandable. Nonetheless, the actors’ singing can hardly be criticised. Hannah Howie as Nia sent shivers down the spine and she did well on imitating the overseas accent. The classy and elegant Charlotte, portrayed by Elissa Churchill, is a nice and refreshing change after the first few sultry ladies.  Churchill’s pure and powerful vocals corresponded well with Jamie’s idea of Charlotte as the ‘perfect’ girl.

Unfortunately, during a short ensemble part with all the four characters onstage, the piece seems a bit moralistic. The overall plot is very simple and clichéd. Yet it feels like with the great musical talent in this production, dynamic pace and the catchy heart-throbbing tunes it’s alright to have that cliché there.

Love/Lust was certainly successful in entertaining the audience and judging by the ovation I’d say they absolutely loved it. As for myself, I’m not a musical enthusiast, but I’d definitely go and see this one.

* * * *

 

Anna Gorska

24 February 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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