Thursday, 26 August 2010

REVIEW: In An Instant, Theatre503, 23 August 2010

 Live a life less ordinary.

Do you have 12 pounds?

Okay, well, if you have them get yourself south of the river to Theatre503 (upstairs at the Latchmere pub) and buy a ticket for In An Instant. It's an evening of new writing - 8 short plays focused on the idea of an unexpected moment that changes your life forever.

You wait for the house to open, sit on the comfortable and well-worn leather couches, sip on your drink and look at all that trendy and beautiful people around you (Is that Samuel Barnett I spot? Yes, it is). Then you go inside the theatre itself and it's tiny - but that's alright, you should be used to that, you love pub theatres, don't you? They are great, they bring back all the rawness of real theatre. But yes, the room is small, so go sit in the first row; don't be afraid of first rows, if you are used to getting day tickets in West End theatres you know of the rewards of first-row theatre-ing. The set is bare: black, two chairs. There will not be much in the way of props or costume during the night but that's fine, listen to the words, look at the actors' faces, that's all you need.

Then it starts.

It starts with HOW I CAME TO BE, written by Adam Barnard and directed Jules Tipton. It's a boy-meets-girl story of sorts. It's not the most original or exciting idea in the world and it sounds like something you might have seen in some writing workshop or a new writing night or something in the Tristan Bates Theatre. But Adam Barnard writes with such charm and wittiness and Nick Gadd and Katie Hayes ar such convincing players that yes, you are charmed. Things are looking good in the room.

Then comes DEBBIE (Who couldn't catch a cold if she tried) by James Graham, directed by Mel Hillyard. Nothing could have prepared you for the sheer genius of this monologue. Maybe it's a pity that it's so early in the evening because it's the best piece of the play, with the one written by Matthew Dunster. It's hilarious and touching and captures the subtle absurdity of teenage despair without looking down on its protagonist. This is a story about a girl who wants to get hit by lightning. Don't worry, she'll tell you why and you'll understand it all. Rebecca Oldfield is simply astonishing as the titular Debbie. You fall in love a bit. Maybe she reminds you of the first time you saw Jessica Raine in theatre, or Pippa Nixon. She makes Debbie quirky and sympathetic and real. This is what happens when pitch-perfect acting meets great writing, and the way James Graham writes here is... Well, it wasn't such a bad idea, coming down to South London on a Monday evening. This monologue reminds you why you love theatre: because it can be this extraordinary.

You are not expecting much AMBIENT NOISE, written by Kenneth Emson and directed by Mel Hillyard again. Maybe because DEBBIE was so perfect that you are expecting a let down. It starts very funny - in fact Richard Maxted is so hilarious that you wonder why he is not in everything. But then you focus on the language, the rhythm of the lines. And hey, wow, that Kenneth Emson sure can write. It's a Morning After story and it turns from funny and well-observed to weird and then sort of touching. You are not sure you get the point of the story completely. It doesn't matter. Richard Maxted and Antonia Kinlay are gorgeous. You are beginning to suspect that every single actor taking part in this play is nothing but extraordinary. In fact Richard Maxted is not only funny but he can give surprising depth to its performance.

QUIZ NIGHT feels perhaps like the most underwritten of the eight plays you see tonight. Written and directed by John Sheerman. It's entertaining and you are entertained despite some bits where the writing doesn't fly as well as it could, and some cheap humour. Nick Gadd, Martin Allanson and Chris Brandon play a trio of friends going to their regular quiz night at the pub, but then there's a twist. The effort to mix genres here is appreciated. You go to the interval quite happy.

When you come back to the little black room it's turn for Matthew Dunster's piece. Matthew Dunster is possibly the most talented writer in UK right now - didn't you go to You Can See The Hills at the Young Vic? Arguably the most powerful play of the last five or six years. You are a bit anxious about this one; Dunster is so good that of course you have certain expectations. You needn't worry: POP! is as brilliant as anything you might have expected. Directed again by Mel Hillyard and performed by Jonathan McGuinness and Rebecca Oldfield. Of course you know Jonathan McGuinness, you've seen him in rehearsed readings here and there, the Soho Theatre, and at the Actors Centre (in fact, you think you remember him in an evening of new writing in which Matthew Dunster also took part). He is always relieable and impressive. True genius. In the same way people like Justin Salinger are geniuses: as in "actors who don't get as much press attention as their obvious talents deserve". McGuinness is indeed impressive (and magnificently low-key) as Rupert, posh City guy hooked on heroin trying to score a hit after work and the only one who can help him is young Jenny, addict and lowlife. The chemistry between the actors works perfectly and you can hardly believe that Rebecca Oldfield can be Jenny as well as Debbie from the earlier piece. POP! takes on a familiar subject for theatre, and it's gritty and it could have easily been clichéd but Dunster is too good for that. You have the feeling this is the kind of play all those gritty plays about drugs wish they could be.

The next piece SNAP, written by Emma Jowett and directed by Jules Tipton, is a dark tale as well (and maybe putting it together with POP! makes sense). It is also a great piece of storytelling - you watch it unfold on the edge of your seat, tense the whole time. It is engaging theatre and to say anything more would be spoiling it. This needs to be said, though: Antonia Kinlay is amazing in it. You begin to suspect you are overusing the world amazing tonight but these plays really deserve it.

Amy Abrahams captures the give-and-take of male friendship very well in HAPINESS IS A CHOICE, directed by John Sheerman. The piece itself might not be extraordinary but the writing and the performances by Martin Allanson and Richard Maxted make it very easy to connect with the characters. The story of James, who changes his behavious suddenly and it pisses his flatmate Dan. Nicely observed.

The last short of the night is EYES FULL OF PORNOGRAPHY by Michael Ross, again under John Sheerman's direction and featuring Chris Brandon and Cameron Slater. Unfortunately this is the weakest play of the group. You don't go with a bitter taste in your mouth because they whole thing has been so rewarding but this piece isn't for you. It's funny at times and the actors do it well but once it's past the plot twist it doesn't have much to offer. It offers cliché but doesn't dissect it succesfully so the characters feel a bit constrained. You get the feeling someone else could have done great work with the idea but as it is the piece remains a bit underwhelming. Nevermind, you don't care. It's all well.

In An Instant comes to London from good Latitude reviews. As you leave the Latchmere pub and wonder which bus will take you north of the Thames from here you mentally thank Theatre503 and Eyebrow Productions for putting this play together. This is what theatre should be about, at its very core. Something fresh, committed with new language, performed by actors full of talent and passion. Even if it's in a tiny room with no set.

And you almost didn't want to come.

So, once again, I ask you: Can you spare 12 quid?

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