first night

Durham Drama Festival 2016- The Black Box

Andrew Shires watches the original writing at DDF's Black Box Stage.

 Small Hours

There was a beautiful simplicity to Anna Jeary’s Small Hours, a play which on the surface was about two best friends, played by Jasmine Price and Jenny Walser talking about everything and nothing. From the very beginning, as the two got comfy in their armchairs, the audience was taken in by their deep friendship, introduced by a typical sex story before covering a variety of topics ranging from The Three Musketeers to recent dreams they had.

Early on in the play there are brief hints that not everything is as it seems, highlighted by a number of unsubtle but extremely effective lighting changes. The reveal, when it comes, isn’t much of a shocker, but Jeary is aware of this, and instead of relying on a big revelation, the emotion comes from the bluntness with which it is delivered. Jeary should be incredibly proud of her work, which I for one found deeply moving.

Both actresses excelled in their respective roles. Jenny Walser was adept at switching between comedy and mischievousness to heart-breaking sorrow nearer the end. Even when she wasn’t talking, it was hard to look away from her wonderfully expressive face. Jasmine Price was also excellent, in both the fondness with which she spoke of their past, and her confusion which added an ominous sense of foreshadowing which permeated the play. One particularly moving part featured both actresses on top form singing a song jokingly together, before the revelation that events did not happen quite the way they were portrayed.

Overall, Small Hours was a beautiful and moving start to the evening and all involved should be incredibly proud of what they have achieved.

Brand Flakes

It’s fair to say that Brand Flakes is the play I have been most excited about seeing for a long time. The concept of three people in a room talking about cereal appeals to me greatly. Seinfeld made an entire show about nothing, and as a massive fan of Seinfeld, I can safely say that Brand Flakes delivers. In fact it more than delivers, it excels.

Kate Lipson’s writing is incredibly strong, with three distinct but humorous characters created from the offset. Jokes come think and fast, and if one falters slightly you know it won’t be too long before another one takes its place. I was nearly crying with laughter at several points throughout. The second act, involving a cereal taste test does detract from the energy somewhat, with an extended period where the three taste various cereals in particular being slightly too long. However the third act was hilarious from start to finish. Lipsom does not hold back, and several lines are extraordinarily risky and dark, which could maybe require a few minor edits, but on the whole the script was close to faultless.

The cast was also incredibly strong. Ben George played team leader Nick, who’s patronising attitude and unbelievably sharp tongue brought about many of the biggest laughs in the evening. One particular line about muesli sticks in the mind. Though a few lines were muddled, which I’m assuming are down to first night nerves, he gave a confident and extremely funny performance. Eliza Cummings as the rather bitchy Leah was also remarkable, and I often found myself looking at her reactions to the other character’s antics, as her annoyance and loathing was a particular highlight. Archie Law seemed to take a little longer to get into the character of the hapless Adam, however as soon as he did, nearly every line he uttered was a joy to hear.

Comedy is of course extremely subjective, but for me personally Brand Flakes ticked all the right boxes. If you have tickets for Friday’s show, relish it whilst it lasts.

The Lizards

An incredibly intriguing premise, involving a washed up boy band a few hours before they go live on a Reading festival stage meant I was very excited for Nikhil Vyas’ black comedy, and I’m delighted to say that except for a few details, The Lizards delivered.

The opening was particularly strong, with Tristan Carman’s irresponsible Chaz filling the stage with energy. Carman was incredible throughout, being both hilarious and sympathetic at times, and was a joy to watch. The play started seemingly as a satire on the music industry, discussing various aspects of band life. One particularly clever moment involving an ex band-mate and Wikipedia was both darkly amusing and quite touching, a tone which Vyas masterfully manages to keep up throughout.

The play does lose its way ever so slightly somewhere around the middle, as a large number of dark and affecting storylines are brought to the audience’s attention pretty much all at once. One scene in particular should have involved some form of warning beforehand, which I do very much hope will be rectified for future performances. That said, the script manages to come together beautifully at the end, with Grace Bryan’s manager Pam and Adam Evans' Mark managing to bring everything to a really rather satisfying, and almost hopeful conclusion. Vyas should be very proud of both his script and his direction, as his use of the limited space the Black Box provides was deeply impressive.

The performances were also strong throughout. Sasoon Moskofian’s Will was believable from start to finish, and brought a nice human aspect to the chaos of the Lizard’s lives. Adam Evans had a harder job due to the experiences his character goes through, but on the whole he is very impressive for the duration of the play.

The Lizards is an extremely interesting play, not without flaws, but definitely successful in what it attempts to do. Vyas has made a masterpiece of bleak satire and painful nostalgia which can’t help but impress from start to finish. 

12 February 2016

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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