Epoch: 1950 takes the incredibly cool spaces at The Vaults and transports the audience back to the 1950s. This unique theatre experience offers three short plays from three different companies, with a set from the Tootsie Rollers to finish off the night.
Epoch could have done a better job to make it feel like the 1950s (and hire a better emcee), but not every company has the budget of Secret Cinema. They do their best with a 1950s timeline, quotes and retro toys like tiddlywinks and dominoes, and you have the actors milling about in between shows in costume. I wonder if it might have felt more authentic if the audience had been asked to dress in the style of the 1950s – I noticed there were a couple of us who gave it a go.
The audience are given three different coloured bands so that we can be divided up and see the shows in a particular order, to make sure there’s an even spread. The first I see is Etiquette and Intelligence from The Dank Parish. Unfortunately, the following shows could only get better than this. Zinta Gercans’s writing is disappointing, appearing to lead us down one path with a radio dating show, then revealing that it is in fact a social experiment to test whether the prospective bachelor can tell the difference between a human’s and a computer’s response to the questions he asks. The conclusions are predictable and the play ends with a pretty blatant discussion of its own themes (for example, predicting human connection being diminished to computerised interaction with the development of social media), which feels like a forced way of making it relevant to the contemporary audience. Owen Jenkins does make an endearing everyman as the bachelor, and Nigel Munson a confident host, but the frequency with which Gercans stumbles over their lines can’t be ignored. It must be said, however, that this play embraces the interactive nature of an experience like this better than any of the others, and is full of plucky ideas.
In my opinion, the next play shows the most promise: The Communist Threat from Rusted Dust. In this play, Kieran O’Rourke and David Holmes (co-writers) play two men hired to assassinate a possible communist threat. The dialogue is an excellent meeting of opposing minds that find some middle ground in the experiences they endured serving in WWII. O’Rourke delivers snapshots of this pair’s time together while waiting for the target, and with complex characters like this it could easily be developed into a longer piece. O’Rourke and Holmes somehow manages to write in a Pinteresque voice, with excellent moments of tension where more is said in subtle movements than out loud, and this mood manages to capture the paranoid energy of that era.
Finally we had Husk Theatre Company’s play Keeping Up With The Joans. Jake Tindle has written a simple and amusing play in the style of a posh soap opera. The plot revolves around a family keeping up with their neighbours by getting the latest thing: a television. The banter in this play may only run surface deep, but tickles the funny bone nonetheless – because of that we’ll ignore that, for some reason, a random French man is thrown into the mix so we can have a laugh at the French stereotype. Besides that, there are strong performances from the entire cast and this play is a joyous note to end the night on.
It’s a unique way to explore an epoch, and most definitely a fun night out, but as a piece of theatre it should arguably be more of an experience. Reduced to the brief pieces of writing alone, it operates a little like a well-choreographed scratch night.
Epoch: 1950 played at The Vaults. For more information see the Epoch website.