Following Jake’s review of Tuesday’s ‘blue’ group, I ventured into ‘yellow’ territory of a new collaborative piece Coalition. I was intrigued from the moment I stepped into the pub and up the stairs to the theatre foyer; having never been to Theatre503 before, I was struck by the friendly atmosphere and Fringe-esque venue; traits I think are already setting it as a place to be watched for the emergence of great new writing.
And Coalition is just that – new writers coming out from the shadows and combining with alternative artists to create visual but thought-provoking pieces, a way of portraying currently political events that is interesting and relevant to the people of today. It also allowed the audience to view types of stage-art that they may never have considered seeing independently, and that variety brings something special to Theatre503 that I think is missing from a lot of ‘traditional’ theatres.
The Yellow group combined writers with a comedy sketch group, a choreographer, a musical duet, and a guitarist; each with their own cast, they managed to bring aspects of the political climate on to the stage in a way that was interesting, informative, and at times very moving.
We Are Where We Are – the first performance was a collaboration of Dominic Cavendish, theatre critic for the Daily Telegraph, and comedy group Clever Peter. In a setting that resonates a 1984 and V for Vendetta society, they allow the audience to be a fly on the wall in their “Conversation with a capital ‘C’” in which the benefits of an injured man are discussed and, ultimately, removed. Despite my lack of political know-how, I was able to follow their story (and it was definitely a story!) and pick up on their references, however subtle, to the current situation; it was funny and engaging, but reflected a serious message about the shifts the new government are making and the effects they may have, with sinister to reference to a possible future of corpse-fuelled light bulbs, the final push in ‘recycling’. The writing was clever in that you were sure of their intention and comparison with current politicians, but the message wasn’t forced and the characters weren’t farcical – it became a darkly comic foretelling of the potential for Britain’s leaders.
Of the Willing – Rex Obano teamed up with choreographer Mina Aidoo to develop a beautiful series of expressive dances. Although not all were clear in their relevance to the topic of politics, they were a visual treat and something I would never have otherwise seen; the power of the four dancers – Yaa Appiah-Badu, Nathan Johnston, Maddy Morgan, and Janina Smith – echoed through the room. Their use of an automated computer-voice that read out tweets referring to the rising tuition prices was a clever, if slightly creepy, representation of the information overload young people receive about politics, escalating into a manic progression of movements from the dancers in such an energetic way that the audience became exhausted watching and listening to the tweets. Despite having a more tenuous link to the overall theme, there is no questioning the skill and talent in both choreographing and performing these pieces.
Shotgun Civil Partnership in the Rose Garden – using the music written by Bourgeois and Maurice, Lola Stephenson developed an interesting sketch between a gardener and burglar. It may be down to my political ignorance, but as good as the piece was, I saw little relevance in the script. The children named ‘Fairness’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Responsibility’ were obviously so called for a reason, but to me it was unclear and so some of the comedy was probably wasted on me.
PMQ – Ella Hickson and Gwendolen Chatfield produced an absolutely stunning collaboration, developing a moving text that was delivered extremely well by Richard Lintern. The piece consisted of Lintern voicing the thoughts of David Cameron just before his first Prime Minister’s Questions, with Chatfield acting as his conscience in the background, adding in those doubts we’re all sure to get, accompanied by her guitar and lines from Mumford and Sons’ Little Lion Man. This collaboration looked at Cameron as a man, not a politician, and managed to break down his apparent professional façade and expose his insecurities and worries, even with reference to his late son Ivan. It is easy to forget that people in power are in fact humans like the rest of us, and the Hickson/Chatfield partnership divulged the private thoughts of a very public man.
Bedrooms, Dens, and Other Forms of Magic – I had never thought combining writing with illustration onstage could be achieved, but Ben Ockrent and Susie Hogarth, illustrator, managed to produce an intimate, heart-warming story that, despite apparently having no political connotations whatsoever, was lovely to watch and generally a ‘nice’ piece of theatre. Harry Melling (most well-known as ‘Dudley Dursley’ in Harry Potter) worked beautifully beside Georgia King – I had seen Melling as ‘Swiss Cheese’ in Mother Courage and Her Children at the National last year, and yet again he did not disappoint in his characterisation of a socially-awkward, geeky teenage boy. The rapport between King and Melling was almost tangible, and the audience felt for both characters through their story of leaving school and finding themselves. As I said, I couldn’t quite recognise the political references, but either way it was a stunning piece of theatre, and the illustrative projections by Hogarth gave it a childhood resonance that brought it to life.
As with any production containing a variety of acts, Coalition had its ups and downs – however none of the downs were too appalling and all of the ups were outstanding. An interesting show that exposes the audience to things they may never have considered before, and provides a new insight into the current political climate without shoving opinions down your throats. As a venue for new writing, Theatre503 has definitely produced something unique.
Coalition is playing at Theatre 503 until 5th December. For more information and to book tickets, see the website here.