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Meet Me at The Nightingale and Understudies

22 June 2018

Backpedalling

Meet Me at The Nightingale

by Andrew Sharpe, and

Understudies

by Joanna Gardetta

Theatre in the Pound at The Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone until Monday 17th Dec

Review by Poppy Rose Jervis

Theatre in the Pound is an evening of new theatre at The Cockpit, which is described as “provocative theatre and risky new work, new drama, writing, cabaret, physical theatre and all kinds of everything theatrical”

…… and, yes, it does what it says on the tin! Theatre in the Pound is happening every month throughout the year at The Cockpit Theatre. Quite extraordinarily, only cost £1.00 for the evening. In itself enticing, posting your pound into a black painted parking cone complete with slotted top to gain entry, is a fair indication of the fun and quirky juxtaposing with the sombre and serious that is to come.

Th Pound Cockpit

Well, what was to come? … all performances, which have a maximum running time of twenty minutes, are simple black box with minimum fuss and minimum distraction, with efficient lighting and essential or occasional props.

Sylvia, Ja Theatre Company’s thought provoking play about Sylvia von Harden, the journalist who was the subject of the Otto Dix’s well-known painting, was a wonderful example of the style.

There have been a number of other interesting offerings in Theatre in the Pound recently. Here are two contrasting examples.

KatAlyst Productions London premiere of Andrew Sharpe’s self-contained new play, Meet Me at The Nightingale, directed by Kat Rodgers is a gentle play with the feel-good factor and a twist at the end.

Cyclist Kirsty (Sarah Leigh) is distraught and she takes refuge in the legendary Nightingale Café, where she meets the charming but befuddled Harry, (Paul Manual) waiting, seemingly for ever, for his wife to return from a shopping trip. Together, these two unlikely friends uncover a mystery stretching back over eighty years.

The play is unpretentious – the setting is a pleasant café complete with checked tablecloth and flower vase. Kirsty and Harry are wearing the ordinary clothes of real people (Kirsty’s show us she has been riding a bike and Harry is sensibly casual) – both are perfectly ordinary people.

Paul Manual is wonderfully cast. We see a touching and naturalistic portrayal of Harry. He’s everyone’s father, he’s everyone’s favourite uncle, he’s the somewhat old fashioned, gentle and kind, loyal and faithful husband we all hope to find (and yes, we do want to take him home with us!). Somehow, emerging through this is also a sense of sadness and confusion which becomes more apparent (and increases our fondness of him) as the play goes on.

Sarah Leigh too, plays Kirsty in such a way that we feel we know her well from the start. She’s practical, she’s kind. We trust her. We know she’d pick our children up from school if we couldn’t get there and probably give them a snack and a drink as well. It’s an energetic and pacey performance.

We fully believe in the characters, their interaction and the relationship between them as their interpretation is spot on – both are ingenuous and leave us to grow uncertain and question.

The play opens from darkness with the sound of a motor accident but Harry is sitting unhurt and Kirsty, in cycle gear, emerges intact so it doesn’t immediately seem that either were involved. As conversation between the two progresses, we learn that Harry is waiting for his wife (she had been at Balham Station and they always meet here). He is becoming a little repetitive and confused and we wonder if he could have been re-living her accidental death of some time ago.

It is hard to say too much more without spoiling the story-line but various pennies begin to drop in a moving moment between the two when we realise that all is not well with Kirsty.

The ending is not for the analytical, for those who feel cheated when (although this is not), ‘it’s all a dream’ or for those who feel that anything inconclusive is a ‘get out’ but its fifteen minutes of enjoyable, well-shaped escapism with a considered dialogue which is easy to listen to and easy to watch. The audience fully related to the characters with a few audible in-taking of breaths and wipes of a gentle tear.

Well-paced, lovely acting and the line delivery at the end rather than the script, that brings the lump to your throat.

Understudies by White Wall Productions is the one with the girlie giggles. Written by Joanna Gardetta (comedy sketch writer for Channel 4’s highly acclaimed, Smack the Pony) and directed by Lou-Lou Mason it is bitter-sweet comedy, which follows the trials and tribulations of Beth and Ali. They are two actresses, both alike in dignity but both desperately trying to make the big time, but forced to inhabit the back-stage storage cupboard that is their dressing room.

Alike in dignity perhaps but not much else, the girls are thrown together whilst being almost diametric opposites with not a lot of understudying or straddling going on. One shorter and blonde, taking her acting seriously and working as hard as possible; one tall, skinny with long dark hair, wishing to become rich and famous through modelling and acting (because after all, aren’t all four one and the same?). Beth (Blanche Anderson) is practical, hardworking and believable in a robust portrayal striving do her best in whatever is thrown at her whilst waiting for her big break (in this case wearing unflattering dungarees and hoping desperately, as the title suggests, for the opportunity to understudy) whilst the self-obsessed, shallow and selfish Ali (Stephanie de Whalley), played as a little more of a caricature, conspicuously flibbertigibbets around her. Whilst wanting to be exalted (and rich) Ali has no respect or understanding, is obsessed with the trimmings of designer merch’ and recuperates from her shopping spree swigging wine back stage and getting in Beth’s face.

So we have got to know the young ladies in a remarkably short space of time, partly because as an audience we know the types, partly through the nature of the script coupled with the delivery from Anderson and de Whalley. Not caricatures as such, both Beth and Ali are played stereotypically which is of course, what makes a ‘sketch’ funny. Anderson and de Whalley bounce off each other without anticipation but the banter is not unexpected and the ending is predictable. Pacey but not punchy the energy could be ramped up. Originally written as a short comedic radio drama, Gardetta retains her sketch-show style with both her material and de Whalley’s vocal portrayal, tone, timing and delivery being highly reminiscent of Sally Philips (Smack the Pony) playing Clare in BBC Radio 4’s sitcom Clare in the Community.

The audience had a good giggle but other than seeing the characters return in further short sketches, it’s hard to see how this could be expanded and adapted for the stage for anything more than a half hour slot. The material is not conducive to a play and the characters are short dose funny.

Ideal for audience on a party night or outing in a theatre pub or festival, this is a piece for lovers of a girlie giggle and Chick Lit.

Poppy Rose Jervis
June 2018

Photography courtesy of Cockpit Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Fringe, Reviews

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