first night

Durham Drama Festival - The Assembly Rooms

Dan Gosselin sees what the Assembly Rooms has to offer for this year's Durham Drama Festival


Swing by Around 8 - Jessica Bray


Swing by Around 8 tells us the story of a dinner party with a twist, and as an attempt to save a relationship Im pretty sure a swingers dinner party would be my approach, but it certainly gave us an entertaining 50 minutes of theatre.


Swing by Around 8 excels in its believable dialogue and emotion and Bray should be highly commended for her ability to write in this way. The script itself is at its best in its conversational dialogue, offering a true sense of believability with the characters portrayed, we feel drawn into these people and the stories and are able to find something instantly relatable in at least one of them. The strength ultimately lies in Brays ability to tread the line of farcical and believable, showing an incredible control of the dramatic tension in the piece, allowing it to develop throughout and show the depth of the story behind the dinner party.


Of course, it would be remiss to only talk of the script, which while deserving of praise would be nothing without the ensemble of actors that performed it. The ensemble should be commended as a whole for how incredibly they worked together; their combined sense of comic timing was impressive and only faltered slightly during the performance. The chemistry between a tentative Katherine (Annie Davison) and suave Elliot (Jack Fenwick) contrasted perfectly with the dull tension between an over-compensating Matt (Rory Barnes) and a well, somewhat high maintenance and increasingly drunker Amelia (Eliza Cummings-Cove). All four, alongside Tristan Robinson as the policeman, committed to their roles and ensured that the nuances of the script were portrayed effectively.


My only issue was the sense of conclusion, I think I wanted to see more of this dinner party and I was upset to see it cut short so quickly, without more time to develop both couples stories, but I understand the constraints of a drama festival. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Swing Around by 8 and I think Bray has a promising future in her witty writing, as well as in sharing my loathing of the word moist.


Strike - Jenny Walser


Strike is in an interesting concept and offers us with some interesting questions, challenging the idea of male dominance, whilst also dealing with the ideas of rape, fraud and stolen identities.


Strike focuses on a speed-dating agency of the same name, and in the early scenes we move between a date on a speed dating evening, and the offices of the agency. The staging here is simple but effective, placing the date at the front and the agency behind. Whilst the idea of moving between the two seems sound and works on a directorial level, I found the dis-jointed scene structure interrupted the flow of the piece, and I would much rather have seen the date scenes in full in one go, before moving to the office. This is also evidenced in the final scene where the actors move set to simply deliver one line, which in many ways felt superfluous to the conclusion.


I think this disjointed feel pervaded the piece for me and meant that I felt unable to get a true feeling for the characters in the play. These characters seemed sound and well thought out, however, whether it be through direction or script the nuances in character were often lost, this is best evidenced between Rick (Adam Evans) and Suzie (Shona Graham) who seemed to lack a build in sexual tension, meaning their eventual kiss and date seems more stilted and tagged on. However, I enjoyed Grahams performance throughout the piece, she reacted well to the situation unfolding around her and the writing for the two which felt natural and well thought out. Their boss, Ed (Mike Yates) became, in many ways, too much of a caricature for me, he was the womanising, dim-witted, taskmaster and gun hoboss all in one, and I think this lead to a confusing performance in trying to straddle all these aspects, and whilst Mike did well in mastering many of these I felt at times that I was watching a complete shift in character that seemed unprecedented.


The proof of the productions ability was shown best in the writing for the Man (Rob Collins), the Woman (Zoe Coxon) and the Officer (Olivia Race) who's smaller scenes truly caught my attention, even though they were often the most static, focusing on two tables. They were moments when I felt true emotion was developed. During these scenes I felt gripped to the stories progression and I would have liked to have seen more of this in the piece, as Jenny is clearly very capable of this.


Although the concept is strong I feel in many ways that in attempting to deal with so many issues it introduces a series of sub-plots that lead to confusion and ultimately are one of the key let downs in the piece. I think that so many aspects were trying to be dealt with that we ended up with resolutions that did not feel satisfying. While I enjoyed many moments of the piece I think it lacked cohesiveness, and I feel with some work this could be the hard-hitting comedy that it set out to be.


Killing Time - Nikhil Vyas


I will preface this by saying that I am not the biggest fan of this style of black comedy, nor am I the most experienced in the genre, however there were moments of brilliance in Killing Time.


Killing Time takes us into the house of three serial killers, thrusting us into the environment as Stewart (Rohan Perumatantri) enters with gas mask on face, a bloodied shirt and axe in hand, proclaiming he just chopped a man into pieces. This sets the tone for this cleverly written script, which causes the audience to burst into laughter in many places.


For me the script provides both the strongest and weakest parts to the performance, it has some incredible comic lines, but it also pushes the boundaries of believability to the extremes, removing our faith in the characters and their nuances. After being thrust into the dark world of the serial killer, we are constantly reminded of their mentality with discussions of pyramids of heads and murder of first dates. For me it was all too much, too soon and this meant that the whole situation felt too ridiculous, meaning that when it attempted to become more grounded we lost some weight of the characters.


The real stand out scenes where those focusing on Daisy (Izzy Mitchell) who delivered a strong performance throughout and her character offered great counterpoint for the other three. The depth and pacing, a recurring strength of the script, of the opening scenes between Daisy and Gordon (Tom Harper) display the nuances in both performance and writing of these characters that I felt this gets lost in the larger scenes where Harper resorts to shouting when I feel a more delicate approach of underlying feelings could be used, allowing more displays of vulnerability and making the moments when he does shout more poignant.


Stewart and Ben (Max Lindon) often felt two dimensional, particularly in the earlier scenes, and we didnt truly get to see more than the crazed serial killer aspects of them. This led to a lack of caring in later scenes where we finally see some character development, I think showcasing the weaker aspects sooner, even through delivery may have helped warm us to the over-the-top characters and give them a higher sense of realism.


Moments of direction also showcase an attention to detail, for example the use of the sound of a boiling kettle to mirror rising tension works so simply, yet effectively that it is a shame that we do not see similar indicators throughout, although on the whole the direction of the piece works well. The direction extends well to the fight sequences, which seem well choreographed, if potentially needing some more rehearsal to make entirely believable. The violence is dealt with well in the show and I feel handled appropriately, the use of fake blood proved to be especially effective in certain sequences.


Overall, I think Killing Time is a well written production, however it spends too much time moving between over-the-top and realism, I think it would do better having removed some of the more ridiculous ideas and focused on drawing us into the characters and Daisys story.

7 February 2015

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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