Face to Face FestivalAs Simon Holton noted in his review of the Face to Face Festival at Lost Theatre earlier this week, the notion of performing a piece of theatre on your own is a daunting task. Solo performances, one person shows, monologues, soliloquies, whatever name you give this work it takes a certain performer to fly, or to crash and burn, in front of an audience who thrive on their every breath and movement. I have, it would be fair to say, a love/hate relationship with the work that demands a single performer to deliver to their audience the wonders of theatre. Too often I’ve disengaged when a performer fails to ignite any interest, but on the evening I attended Face to Face Festival, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Maxwell Syndrome, written and performed by Bianca Watson, opens the evening of solo work with a terrifically alluring and dark monologue. What strikes me most about Watson’s performance is her sense of timing and precision. A single look out to the audience is enough to say a thousand words, her eyes piercing and her head ever so lowered. The monologue itself takes a nod from Samuel Beckett with a slow, repetitive and meandering story.

Meanwhile The Singing Stones by Kay Adshead has a particularly political and heavy poetic force, although her delivery was slightly hindered by nervousness. Once in the flow though, the poetic story of a woman who sings during the Arab Revolution and is imprisoned, her voice cut off forever more, is certainly powerful.

But it is Claire Dowie who steals the evening’s performances with her piece Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? A piece that spirals into all manner of themes and topics, from growing up as a woman in a man’s body to gender politics, oppression and liberation, and childhood angst, to name but a few. Dowie is an exceptionally caring and considerate performer, which might sound strange, but her ability to listen and respond to her audience is what really brings her storytelling to life. Her delivery doesn’t miss a beat, and even as she clocks in past the 45 minute mark of performing there’s no sign of energy dropping; in fact, as she reaches a climatic delivery of gender liberation you can’t help but nod and agree. Why can’t we just be who we want to be and wear what we want to wear? Why must we conform all the time?

If there are criticisms to be made about Dowie’s writing, it is only that the story seems to back up on itself. We hear of her growing up as a teenager and struggling with wanting to wear and be what she wants to be as she enters adult life, but suddenly we’re thrown back to her schooldays again, repeating the same routine. It’s a small criticism to make, but the flow of the piece is jarring because of it. Thankfully, Dowie is a fine comedic performer, and her writing reflects this. Suggestions of her “womb dropping” and skirts that constantly require “knicker protection” are met with hearty laughs.

As a performer and writer Dowie is certainly inventive and imaginative. If I had worries of a performer being able to hold their own for the best part of an hour then she certainly made me think again. Fine comedy and a fine performance.

The Face to Face Festival took place at the Lost Theatre. For more shows at the theatre see the Lost Theatre website.