What better way to spend a Sunday evening than by seeing five short performances for the price of one? Not that I paid for the privilege – but if I had I certainly wouldn’t have regretted it.
Voices From Home is a curated festival of 15-minute theatre, featuring emerging writers from the South East of England.
We begin with Sea Legs by Zoe Glen, a poetic piece of writing about a woman for whom the sea and its movements are metaphors for life. She speaks of the freedom she felt aged 5 running through the sand but as she gets older this freedom turns into claustrophobia and she drowns. She portrays the anxieties of growing up but the piece is a little too packed with metaphor and cliche meaning at times we somewhat lose the story.
Runaways by David Ellis follows, a welcome contrast with it’s loud mouthed female protagonist who storms onto the stage in a rage. It’s a nice piece showing how two strangers can connect despite being from completely different backgrounds. It manages to cover race, religion and class in the 15 minutes without it seeming too forced or crowded. The acting is strong, helped by the good writing and the clash between her extroverted energy and his introverted makes for a comic and heartwarming piece.
Next up is Bank of Love, a piece by Isabelle Stokes. Although the piece is centered around two homeless women, Becky and Maria it is not written in a way that victimises them, it merely gives them a voice and they remain powerful women in their own right, this is really nice to see.
Olivia Rose Smith as Maria takes the limelight with her great stage presence but then it is arguably more challenging to write dialogue for a ‘nice’ (or as she’s described ‘booksmart and tampax wearing’) character like Becky, thus she stands out less than her more bolshy and confident counterpart. That being said Becky does have some beautiful lines such as ‘so much left of the day and nothing left to do,’ not particularly jarring or dramatic but said in a way that is subtly weighted with sadness. Becky and Maria’s personalities complement each other and both are believable characters. Their onstage chemistry allows for a tenderness to be created between them very quickly. I feel like I would like to see the piece extended to further this.
Then, just when you think it can’t get any better we have Ella Dorman-Gajic’s The Tory Who… (if you want to find out what he did you can request she puts it on again- I certainly will). Dorman-Gajic’s energy and confidence is powerful and the recipe for a brilliant storyteller, she has us in the palm of her hand. Although the theme of her piece (having sex even though ‘the fanny flusters have barely begun’) is so relatable to at least 50% of the audience (and of the world for that matter) she presents it in a way that is so unique and refreshing that it still manages to shock and amuse us.
Like many of the plays, humour is used to mask something darker and there are moments in Dorman-Gajic’s piece when she lets her mask slip enough that we feel sad and uncomfortable on her behalf. However, it’s not long until she’s got us laughing again. I actually witnessed an audience member knee-slapping he was laughing so much. To be able to carry the audience through contrasting emotions so quickly is a great skill indeed.
Last but certainly not least we have Spark by Sian Rowland. This piece perfectly captures the very relatable, awkward teenage angst when you first start to ‘fancy’ someone. The Romeo and Juliet we meet in this piece are the ‘Virgin Convent Girl’ and the ‘Hunk of the Parish’ (not my words) and we cringe for them as they try to navigate through flirtation. Both of these two protagonists are equally watchable and engaging and multi-role snippets of other characters with ease, bringing the whole piece to life. The jolted, stuttering communication between the two of them contrasts nicely with their frank thoughts and confessions to the audience which allowed us to see their personalities away from the context of their blushing bumbling. At times the poetic language seems a little jarring but is diluted with enough comedy to make it work.
The Voices From Home Festival is a fantastic way for emerging writers, directors and actors to carve their way into the (brutally competitive) theatre scene. It offers a platform for them to show what they are capable of in just 15 minutes. The standard was high this year; it is exciting to see what different creative minds can conjure up when given a stage.
Voices from home was at Arcola theatre on the 2 February. For more information see the Arcola Theatre website.