The Maiden Speech Festival presents a collection of short plays every evening that discusses and dissects various subjects and themes. This, inevitably, results in quite a mixed bag of theatre that means not all of the plays will be to everyone’s taste. But this makes for an interesting evening in which you will experience different forms of theatrical tales, each crafted in their own way.
Becoming The Invisible Woman by Sarah Wanendeya
Wanendeya’s play is about a middle-aged woman coming to terms with her middle- agedness, reminiscing on her youth and fretting about growing older. It’s important to note that, as a 23-year-old man, I am not this play’s target audience – so the insightful humour about being a middle-aged woman and the social commentary that is used rather heavy-handedly, is not appreciated by me as much as it is by other theatregoers. Indeed, the night I went, the audience thoroughly enjoyed this production and there was raucous laughter throughout. Nevertheless, this play lacks subtlety at times and is on the nose about its commentary on issues faced by middle-aged woman; indeed, the play takes itself quite seriously. The strongest moments are those where the story, and the actors, proverbially and literally let their hair down.
While the actresses perform with a knowing passion and, at times, appropriate black humour that gives this play vibrancy, it occasionally misses the mark and perhaps they needed another week of rehearsals. Unfortunately, the actresses stumbled over lines and cut each other’s lines out in numeral examples of some messy comic timing. On the other hand, there are some well-rehearsed and well-executed moments of theatre that are all the more impressive for a show of this small scale – the opening, in which the lead actress emerges from a pile of clothes already on stage, is particularly great. In all, this play features several jokes that land and connect with its target audiences, despite the story veering into overt dreariness. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this play, with some tightening up, find its feet with a larger audience.
Hero Win by Anna North
North’s one-woman show revolves around a young woman dealing with her addiction to puns. This is a funny concept in theory, but in reality, the constant barrage of puns (few of which are genuinely funny, one or two of which are cleverly written) quickly wears thin. All it really does is remind you how irritating puns are. However, the story is about a girl addicted to puns, so the over-punning serves the character well and, regrettably, is needed for the story. Still, the best stretches of this well-crafted story are unsurprisingly the ones in which the least puns appear. North shows some very good comic timing in a couple of line deliveries and in a song with a guitar, drew out genuine belly laughs from the audience.
North seems most comfortable talking to the audience and playing to their reactions; throwing in some off-the-cuff, genuine reactions of her own that gives parts of her show an improvisatory feel and is this is the strongest part of North’s performance. The story goes on to reveal her parent’s own addiction through the eyes of her younger self, which is nicely done and will make for some continued discussion outside of the theatre. However, it does lose its power when the puns keep coming at you. The sheer volume of puns threatens to alienate the audience in this way rather than bring them in, but North’s performance is otherwise strong enough to keep viewers connected.
The Revelation of a Sad Christian Boy by Mark McCredie
The third play of the evening is the strongest of the three entries. McCredie’s show is a one-man, autobiographical performance depicting his difficulty in reconciling his homosexuality with his Christianity. This is a theme that has been played out quite a lot before, but McCredie does so with a natural, funny stage presence, original voice and brilliant comic timing.
McCredie easily brings the audience to laughter more than once throughout the play and he juxtaposes the stiff, wooden aspects of Christianity, with his flamboyant exuberance of being gay. It makes for a very funny 35 minute play, but remarkably, he also manages to bring a lot of genuine emotion to his story and I am not ashamed to say that I was moved to tears during his own song that is made from the exact coming out letter he wrote to his family and friends when he was 20. It is raw, touching and very honest.
However, it isn’t plain sailing as, towards, the end, it does take on edge of preaching or attempting to convert the audience into Christianity – “God loves you, God loves everyone!” That’s his own belief but, given the struggles and hate McCredie faces and details during his performance, you might actually feel quite against the very thing that gives him such hardship for something he couldn’t even control. Nevertheless, this is a small blip in an otherwise original and funny tale that makes the entire evening worth it.
The Maiden Speech Festival played at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 8 December. For more information, click here.