This year, The Significant Other Festival is a perfectly oiled mechanism, which delights for its setting and scattered moments of good humour. Bearing in mind that everything we see was created in just 10 days, there’s a certain admiration for the outcome of The Pensive Federation’s efforts.
Set in a factory in 1988, on the day of a long-standing employee’s retirement party, the overarching theme of the show is a survey of a day in the life of “Reseal 9, Inc.” With 10 mini-plays woven together, the best thing about the play is the fresh variety that the 40-actor cast is able to create. There is a glorious, constant outpouring of new characters, climbing down the stairs in-between the audience, which made me whisper “Oh my God, there’s more of them!” to my friend some 7 times. The members of the cast are like the cogs of a factory, and their mutual connections are what make the factory a really dynamic environment.
Another point of merit is the overall setting. The Vaults offer the best space for a play set in a factory in the ’80s. From the moment we enter the mazy and rough-turned-cool spaces of The Vaults, a play that features workers, cleaners, and packagers seems only but natural. The artistic choice of adding this mise en abyme element, with quirky, ’80s-inspired food (cheese and pineapple, anyone?), secretaries inviting us to the retirement party, and a final speech involving the audience too, was a great shout and definitely added some extra amusement.
While the framework and the ten new 10-minute plays create an enjoyable immersive experience, it is the content of each individual play that proves slightly below expectations. The programme heralds a socially engaged play, but the individual pieces speak more of social awkwardness than they do of political and industrial history. “On the day of [Jack’s] retirement party, what will happen to him, the town, the nation?” asks the website, but the answer never comes. The real focus of the play is the nitty-gritty relationships of the employees, which rarely go beyond the obvious, or the banal (though with some moments of genuine laughs sprinkled here and there).
The inspiration for this year’s Significant Other Festival comes from the very personal experience of Byden’s parents working in a local factory. However, a sense of relatability and real emotion struggles to come across on stage, and the inspiring moments are only but a few. “Stories still to be written but needing to be told” seems a little ambitious for what is in fact a collection of simple, albeit amusing, comedy sketches.
The Significant Other Festival played at The Vaults until 21 April
Photo: The Vaults