Theatre 503, a small stage above the Latchmere pub on Battersea Park Road, has a reputation for staging provocative new writing. Led since 2006 by Artistic Directors Tim Roseman, who left the theatre in September of this year, and Paul Robinson, the theatre’s most notable success has been The Mountaintop written by Katori Hall, a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King’s last hours which transferred to the West End and won an Olivier Award for Best New play in 2010. Theatre 503 certainly has no qualms about pushing boundaries, staging shows like Porn: The Musical and Take Two Every Four Hours which discusses terminal illness, and allowing first-time writers space and freedom to experiment.
Papercut Theatre’s XY falls within this long tradition of original, challenging new plays. Four authors were chosen to write a short play for three actors, without denoting the gender of their characters, and six directors were selected to stage one of the plays as they saw fit. The sequence opens with Tobias Wright’s Spineless which explores when office politics gets nasty and sexual harassment accusations get used as a bargaining tool. It’s an entertaining opener, although Director Bruce Adams makes the gender-play is too obvious by casting the oppressive boss as a stereotypical bossy career-woman, and the quality of acting is poor, with the exception of Daniel Ward as the unfortunate employee.
The next offerings, Sara Pascoe’s The Endings and German Munoz’s Hopelessly Devoted to You, are the two which are repeated in the second half under another director. This introduces an interesting tension between writing and directing, although the differences are so subtle that I feel more freedom or more imagination on the part of the directors would have produced greater engagement and significance. Unfortunately, such repetition with very little variation suggested comparison between the competence of the actors more than anything else, creating a competition in which the far stronger performances in Director Rebecca Manson Jones’ The Endings and Director Amanda Castro’ Hopelessly Devoted to You stood out.
Discussing fetishes about disabilities and wheelchair users, Hopelessly Devoted to You brings up unusual, contemporary issues about acceptance and relationships, while The Endings is a wonderfully absurd tale of three kids, Biggy, Normal and Tiny who live in a strange world inhabited by the violent Egg and mysterious Spoon. These two nicely discuss the issue of gender; the category of male or female seems unimportant and ambiguous in the characters of Biggy, Normal and Tiny, while the two versions of Hopelessly Devoted to You make an important point by comparing the relationship between two lesbians and a straight couple and challenging how this changes our perceptions of the situation. The points raised here are fascinating, but ultimately cannot make up for the variable quality of acting and the tediousness of repeating two very similar versions of two plays. If you’re a huge fan of Groundhog Day, you’ll love it. If not, stay well away.
XY was at Theatre 503 on 9 and 10 December 2012. For more information visit the Papercut Theatre website.