JAM (A Cure for Ageing, The Ugly Sisters), Zilla!, A Conversation with my Father, After the Rainfall, The Watery Journey of Nereus Pike.

From the early-morning JAM session on Saturday right the way through to Sunday night’s Art Crush, the Junction in Cambridge has been buzzing this weekend. For the May bank holiday weekend, a plethora of artists from across the country descend on the unassuming Cambridge Leisure Park, home to the Junction, for two jam-packed days of scratch work, work-in-progress and cake. Lots of cake.

The JAM sessions are a mixed-bag by their very nature; the joy and the problem with seeing work-in-progress is that some of it feels very unfinished. In fact, some of it feels barely begun. However, with much of it, the potential is clear, and a few pieces feel like snapshots of finished, polished performances. Ira Brand’s A Cure For Ageing is a personal, emotive piece about getting older – and watching those you love grow older. Brand uses a letter from her mother as a springboard for a wider look at ageing and the mental decline that can accompany it. Her description of her grandfather’s slide into dementia is well-judged and stays on the right side of mawkish – and brought a tear to my eye early in the morning. RashDash’s The Ugly Sisters was just fabulous and I can’t wait to see the rest. It felt like a teaser for the longer show rather than a work-in-progress, and a show that I would very much like to see. Turning the Cinderella story on its head, and giving us the aftermath of the story as told by the so-called “ugly” sisters, the piece is witty, touching and highly original. More, please.

Hannah Nicklin’s A Conversation with my Father was another piece that worked. It was a well-rounded, neat little piece, that didn’t feel unfinished or as though there were bits missing. Nicklin is a thoughtful and engaging performer, and she shares experiences of protesting, and discussing protests, with her retired-policeman father. Nicklin displays photos of herself and her father from baby to present day, overlaid with live monologues, and interviews that Nicklin conducted with her father about his childhood, life and work – including policing the miners’ strikes. For such a simple concept, the piece is surprisingly moving. Nicklin merges the personal and the political with consummate skill; here the political is personal. The relationship that Nicklin has with her father-the-police-officer and with her Daddy becomes a microcosm through which much bigger ideas can be examined – ideas about fairness, about politics, about family, about genetics and inheritance. The piece is never preachy but is always engaging. Nicklin makes her points almost gently, but they strike home and make the audience consider the bigger picture. It is a piece that works as it is but has room for more, and it lingers in the mind.

The Watery Journey of Nereus Pike by Laura Mugridge is billed as “a true story that I made up”. It didn’t, for me, quite carry off its air of whimsy but was a nice little story nonetheless. It’s rather slight; Mugridge, who is an extremely likeable performer, tells us the sad tale of Nereus Pike, the lighthouse-keeper who returns to the sea. It mixes in odd bits of Norse legend, and has a rather nice turn from Tom Adams as her musician and comic foil, but just feels a bit lacking in substance. Mugridge wears her knowledge lightly and there are some nice touches, but for me, this one needs to go back to the drawing board for a bit of fleshing out.

Curious Directive, a company which explores the links between art and science, presented a work-in-progress showing of After the Rainfall, a piece which will span 60 years from 1952 to 2022 when it is complete. We got about half an hour of the piece – a fragmented but fascinating half hour ranging from Egypt to Finland to England, dotting between time zones and characters. Jack Lowe, Artistic Director of Curious Directive, described the showing as “a piece of the jigsaw rather than the whole puzzle”, and this seems rather apt. It was an intriguing glimpse both into what the work will end up being and into how the company works. The piece is bold in scope and, at the moment, it’s hard to see how the disparate narrative threads will coalesce – but I have no doubt that they will. This showing piqued my interest and I am curious to see the piece at a later stage in its development.

Overall, it was an exciting weekend and one which promises much for the future. The Junction should be applauded for offering this kind of friendly, supportive environment for performers to try out work. I have written before about how important it is for creativity for people to be allowed to fail, and although I saw a fantastic snapshot of work this weekend there were some bits that didn’t work and many moments that had the potential to develop. Offering companies the space to try things out – and to fail – is one of the great strengths of this festival, and one I hope it will continue to offer for many years to come so that we can all benefit from the work which comes out of it afterwards.

Sampled Festival took place over 5-6th of May at The Junction, Cambridge. Read A Younger Theatre’s Live Blog here.