2 March 2015

Theatre In The Pound at The Cockpit (March 2015)

Theatre In The Pound at The Cockpit is such a lot of fun and such extraordinary value that it was staggering (to me) to discover that I had not been there for almost a year. It had taken a Summer break and since then it had either clashed with evening meetings or I had worked at home that day and could not face the journey into Marylebone in the evening. I was very glad to get this opportunity to go there again.

The first part of the plan was to work in London (Kings Cross) that day and then walk to the theatre in the evening, picking up something snacky to eat on the way, as I had done previously. The first part of the plan, being in London, worked well but the second part, walking to the theatre, less so.

I had a rough route in mind and the general plan was to walk more-or-less due West from work to the theatre. But this plan assumed that there would be some roads or paths running East-West which was a sadly mistake assumption so I first found myself walking down Park Village East and Stanhope Street looking for a right turn and then up Albany Street looking for a left turn. The end result of this was that I found myself walking across the top of Regents Park (not in the plan) and running too late to stop for food.

At least I was not locked into a housing estate this time and I got to The Cockpit with just enough time for a Budvar and a packet of Nobby's dry-roasted nuts before heading inside promptly enough to secure a middle of front-row seat. Being prompt was required as the place quickly filled and it was as busy as I have ever seen Theatre in the Pound.

I had no idea what was going to be on the bill and the board was not much of a clue. There was a printed programme too but I only looked at that afterwards to remind me what I saw.

First up was Room, a strange almost wordless piece performed by three young women in long white nightgowns who apparently call themselves Created a Monster. This was physical theatre bordering on dance with the story told mostly by movement.

They used few props, a white line on the floor marked the room, a wooden frame was a window and a hatch, and there was a pair of shoes. The other items, like the pictures, were all mimed.

I could not claim that I knew what was going on all the time but the simplicity and strangeness captivated me and I liked it a lot. The audience feed back in the short discussion session after the performance was positive too though in a room full of drama students and graduates (my guess) it was not surprising to hear some suggestions for improvements too. Room was a great start to the evening.

Songs my Mother Taught Me was something very different again. This was a one-woman show with narration and song. The premise was the funeral of Esme Campbell a former singer in Melbourne. We heard first from one of her daughters who told us something about her relationship with her month and then sang a Dvorak song. The second woman told a sadder story about how this funeral reminded her of the death of her son and his funeral.

The intention was to grow this by adding two more voices and to develop it in to a cabaret act. It worked for me.

Another Time was a piece by a group of drama students that looked back at the war in Bosnia in 1992. I struggled with this one as it seemed to be saying nothing new about the conflict and was not saying anything in a new way either.

I also struggled to follow all of what was going on, especially when we had one person sitting in a car to the side while the murderous events went on in the centre of the stage. We learned in a response to a question from another confused audience member that the car driver was looking back in time to when he was in Bosnia in 1992.

This was the low-point of the evening and, even so, it was quite watchable.

The Club was the play from a play within a play. Here two upper-class people pretended to be of a lower-class somewhat unconvincingly while pursuing romantic interests. There was some role-swapping with the man who was pretending to be the man-servant to an Arthur Dent character who was actually his.

It was a somewhat obvious piece, as farce often is, and it was rescued from simplicity by some fine acting and a few good lines.

Of course seeing the play within a play told us nothing about the play but this was a reasonable divertissement and it ended the first half nicely.

Time for another Budvar.

The second half opened with Testimony in which two men from the opposites sides of the street find themselves in jail together and being looked after by a very disinterested jailer.

The rich banker and the homeless man did not get on at all well and there was much amusement from the way that they spoke dismissively of each other. The homeless man was relentlessly happy and used to the situation while the banker tried to use his money to find a quick way out of the cell.

This was a nice little piece that was, again, well acted.

As I said in the discussion afterwards, I groaned when Swans started. The premise here was of a young woman meeting her boyfriend's mother for the first time. This is a situation that comedy has covered many times before.

But not like this. The dialogue soon leapt away from the obvious age-gap gags and went in all sorts of unexpected directions, including an explanation of what MILF means and the mother posing almost seductively for the girl's camera. The surprises kept going and the dialogue kept sharp.

I loved it.

The team who brought us Another Time in the first half closed the show with Identity. Having called Another Time the low-point of the evening it is only fair to say that Identity was the undoubted high-point. It the most complete work that we saw (not that complete works are what Theatre in the Pound is about) and I found it the most fulfilling.

Again the basic premise, modifying people's memories with technology, is hardly new but this way of telling that story was.

We met a number of people who had been, or were contemplating, being altered and they told us their reasons for doing so. At one extreme it was to forget a murder but most of the other reasons were more domestic in nature.

This gave each member of the cast to show-off for a while as they told their story before returning to the back of the stage. Though not directly part of what was happening in the centre of the stage, those at the back held a series of still poses. It was things like that which added to the richness of the performance and mad it so rewarding.

A real high-note on which to end the main part of the evening.

Then it was back to the bar for a final Budvar and some brief conversations with the creatives, most of which consisted of me saying how much I liked their work and them smiling demurely and saying that was sweet of me.

I spent the best part of four hours wallowing in theatre and talking to the people who created it. And all for a pound (plus the beers). The evening really was a good as that sounds.

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