21 December 2015

Theatre In The Pound at The Cockpit (December 2015)

I had not been to Theatre in the Pound since March due to a series of clashes so it was good to get back there in December. I had missed it.

The Cockpit is conveniently situated just off Lisson Grove which makes it a decent walk there after work and convenient for the tube home afterwards. I walked there the fairly direct way behind Kings Cross, through Euston and then along Marylebone Road. The highpoint of the walk was getting a pasty at Marylebone Station and the low point was being very nearly run over very soon after in what proved not to be a one-way street after all.

No damage was done and I got to the Cockpit around 6:45pm in good time for the 7:00pm start. I headed for the bar and my disappointment in the lack of Budvar (they had sold out) was tempered by the presence of Staropramen. The bottles were smaller though and I was on my second when we went in. I took my usual seat in the front row of the central section ready for the six acts listed on the programme.

Nic McQuillan opened the evening with his monologue Arboretum which took a whimsical view of modern middle-class life, i.e. more or less exactly what Nic was living. The summary (I think!) was that while there is a stereotype that neatly fits 10 million people they are still all individuals with their own stories to tell. I liked it.

OddBod Theatre gave us The Rounds in which a brash American actor was interviewed by a TV presenter (a woman) who was keen to get at some of the darker aspects of his character, notably his anger. There was a sort of cat and mouse game where the cat ultimately won because he was the star and he had brought his lawyers with him. That part was also played very well and that was what impressed me most about this segment.

Sophia Leuner's Save and Quit took us up to the interval. It hit the ground running and never stopped. It told two different stories, a young woman just starting a teaching career in a challenging comprehensive school and a young man coming to terms with his father's death and the implications of that. The two actors were on stage all the time with the spotlight moving between them as they took turns to progress their stories. There was a lot in those stories, good, bad and funny, and I was gripped. In the final moment the two stories came together as she bought an xbox from him.

The script was packed with good ideas, shifting moods and clever construction and this was delivered superbly by the two actors. It was worth going just for those fifteen minutes.

While I did not find this in the least derivative it evoked memories of Blink at the Soho Theatre and Christmas at the White Bear Theatre, both of which I liked. My first, and somewhat clumsy, contribution to the after performance discussions was to say that I had paid good money to see similar plays and I would gladly pay good money to see the full version of this one.

The interval brought me another bottle of Staropramen.

Katarina Rankovic's Rosa and Lawrence Where Here opened the second half with another high point. Rosa and Lawrence were two characters in a script and they needed two performers to bring that script, and them, alive. Two volunteers from the audience came out to read while in the background we saw videos of some previous performances. Having three things to focus on (script, actors and video) made for a nicely layered presentation where we could argue about the relative merits of each, such as whether the characters in the script were more important to the performance than the actors.

As an example of this, one person in the discussion after the piece suggested that the text be simplified as the actors had stumbled over some of the words (they were reading the script for the first time) but then I said that I liked the mistakes as that reminded us that they were actors and not Rosa and Lawrence. There is no right answer to this and it was nice to explore other views on the performance with the rest of the audience.

You can find out more about Rosa and Lawrence on Katrina's website. Here you can see videos of people reading the script and even download the script to record a new video for the archive. I do not think that I will go that far but it was good to see other people have a go.

Dramango then gave us The Post Office, an improvised performance set in which a variety of characters visited the post office with consistent lack of success. They were normally ushered out with the advice to go to the main post office.

It was funny though I, and this is a personal choice, would have preferred some variety in the mood of the stories and I would also have liked them to be a little longer. There were something like ten visitors in the fifteen minutes so it tended to be quick-fire and to use obvious characters that we could appreciate quickly. I am also not much of a fan of improvised performances.

Despite these misgivings it was funny and I enjoyed it.

Letters to Centre Stage closed the evening with an excerpt from their play OLU in which the titular character is a fourteen year old girl arriving in Nigeria from England and starting in her new school. The section we saw included a discussion on why somebody would want to go from England to Nigeria, the reporting of Africa in the western media and the impact of colonialism. There were also some typical teenage rivalries.

I struggled a little bit with this one though some of those struggles eased in a chat over a beer afterwards. Seeing a small part of a full play made it hard to see the context and also to understand what its message was. I made a comment in the feedback session about the simple way in which some political arguments were presented (listening to Africa Today regularly helped me here) and it was only in the response that I learned that the girls were only fourteen (they were played by women in their twenties) and that politics was a very small part of the play and the simplicity of the arguments used was one of the points being made.

After a slow start when I said nothing about the first two acts, I joined in the discussions on all of the others and continued those discussions with cast and audience members in the interval and at the end. All of that is important to me otherwise Theatre in the Pound would just be six short shows that are all deliberately not quite ready for public display.

As somebody who is interested in the art of theatre and not just in the consumption of it, Theatre in the Pound gives me great insights in to how theatre happens and entertains me at the same time. It is a marvellous combination, and it only costs a pound!

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