The setting for the festival was created in the multifunctional pop up space of The Vaults in Waterloo. Walking down the grungy urban cool streets of Leake street, with its pungent smell of spray paint and rumbling sounds of passing trains and skate boards, created a real atmosphere leading up to the festival. The space had been specifically designed with a box office, exhibition space, 2 performance rooms, a bar and a cafe space. The cafe featured rows of deck chairs facing a projected cinema screen with a selection of short art house style films. The bar reminiscent of a art deco speak easy, boasting high round tables, a small stage area and a diverse programme of walkabout performers. All this generated a really energised space, and the feeling of stumbling over a hidden gem of the contemporary underground art scene.
First Draft by Open Heart Surgery
The first performance I saw as part of the festival was advertised as physical theatre and featured a rather appealing image of a performer holding a ball of light. As a pre 7pm show I was aware that this show was not a headliner and therefore as a festival for emerging companies, might be a bit rough round the edges, but the atmosphere of the festival persuaded me to give it a chance. My concerns were unfortunately well founded as this show proved far from professional and instead reminiscent of a school drama piece. The elements of physicality which combined a few simple props with contemporary dance style movements were okay and although the props lacked any real design the images created were quite nice. The main part of the show however was a series of text heavy scenes between the two performers playing a range of characters. The delivery of this text was truly cringeworthy, with forced diction and emotion and no believability in the characters. The main story line followed two female characters meeting in a memory room following the end of the world, some sort of bunker where the remnants of human kind now reside. This story felt quite cliched and lacked any kind of deep or original thought. The hour length of this show dragged and i was very tempted to leave, though the slight hope it may improve or at least offer some resolution, made me persevere but disappointedly without reward.
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs by Kill The Beast, based on the book by Tom Baker
The second performance I went to see was considerably better. Highly stylised in design and carefully devised and rehearsed. This young company came across as a highly professional, experimental theatre group with original style, witty delivery and real talent for creating enjoyable, well developed performances.
Given the space and status of this emerging company I was hugely impressed with the design including props, projection, make up and costumes. All aspects had been well considered and well produced. In a film noir style, highly reminiscent of Tim Burton's Frankenweeni film, absolutely everything was in grayscale, gothic and stylised. Each new character of which there were many had individual costume elements to support the multi tasking performers. At times the finish of costumes and props felt a little heavy handy but the home made feel had a deliberate charm to it. The backdrop featured a projection screen which set each scene with a finely rendered scene. Again the design of these settings were highly stylised and looked like something from a graphic novel. I was constantly impressed with these scenes which took us to different places and had been created bespoke for the piece. The use of a filmic backdrop worked with the film noir style of the performance and tabloid themes running through the plot, so a 2D image proved not only practical for a small touring theatre piece but also in keeping with the vision.
The performances were very well delivered showing diversity and skill in the performers who were able to take on a wide range of characters, voices and theatrical techniques. The most effective and surprising elements were the songs which worked well to create a different pace to the performance. These included all 4 performers, were funny in content and performed like a Victorian vaudeville or music hall. There were also aspects of creative play, overlap and fast shooting of text which created a tapestry of rhythmic voices, sounds, pace and urgency, again very effective.
The story itself was quite bizarre and more a comment on personalities, relationships, media and a bit of fun rather than an in-depth or twisting plot. It was dark with clear adult content but the story and delivery was in the style of a children's cartoon. The characters were deliberately stereotypical and in most cases well formed with a good range of dynamics between them. They worked as a company with no main character standing out or one actor in the shadows.
Overall this was an interesting show which worked well in this small quirky venue but which I could also see expanded and developed for a main stage. The style and content was highly stylised and therefore would not be to everyones taste, but for anyone with a love of the macabre or Tim Burton this was a fun and worth seeing show.