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Reboot Festival

by on 30 November 2022

Taster Menu

Reboot Festival 2022

Week Three

Barons Court Theatre until 3rd December

Review by Claire Alexander

Watching six plays in one evening is a little like getting a taster menu at a restaurant.  You know which dishes you would like more of, which are perfectly portioned and which perhaps you would not have chosen.  Happily, all of the plays I saw at the Baron’s Court theatre last night fell into the former two categories and I found myself wondering which of the short snapshots I saw, I would like to see in a longer version.

It’s quite a challenge in an evening – six plays – and I applaud the Baron’s Court Theatre for this concept and making it work so successfully.  This is the third and final week of the Reboot Festival and will have given eighteen new and emerging writers an opportunity to showcase their work. The plays were short and snappy, perhaps only fifteen minutes at most, and thus the evening did not fall into the trap of being overlong and kept the audience on their toes! 

Interestingly a couple of themes began to emerge.  In the first half with Antigone (Maria Mayangi) and The Watchers (Jayne Woodhouse) we are taken to a violent contemporary society and a thoroughly plausible dystopian future.

Antigone cleverly and intelligently brings the Greek tragedy of Antigone firmly into the present.  In the original Sophocles’, Antigone fights to get a proper burial for her brother (Polynices) against the wishes of King Creon, ultimately at the expense of her own life.  In this version the Antigone of the title is fighting for justice for her brother who has been killed in a protest, probably by the established power.  This is a really well constructed play and I found it compelling in the way it built, performed with energy, attack and feeling by Yolanda Ovide, Lara Grace Ilori and Mutulu Wolley.   Writer Marie Mayangi absolutely hits the spot here with her direct and honest dialogue.  As Antigone says towards the end ‘how do I fight for you, if I let go of that rage’.   

Reference to the ‘Women Life Freedom’ mantra at the end of the third play in the evening, The Watchers by Jayne Woodhouse, places it very firmly in contemporary Iran and the protests for women’s rights there, but it could potentially be anywhere in the world and is a chilling reminder of how passive protest can very quickly turn very dangerous in the hands of authoritarian regimes. This was a thought provoking and unsettling piece of writing, succinctly and subtly making its point; with focussed direction from Sharon Willems, and clearly and honestly performed by Sojourner Hazlewood Connell, Martha Crow and Ceri Gifford.

In the second half a completely different theme emerges: what if the tables are turned and the person with the assumed status and power actually has nothing at all except for their ‘label’.

In Stan by Leo Bacica a superfan visits her hero backstage after a performance, and ends up locking him in the dressing room.  The end is probably entirely predictable:  in the final analysis who is going to be believed – the innocent fan who just wants to spend time with her crush, or the comedian who is on the verge of his big break.   The tension between the two was carefully judged, both in the writing and the performances of Samira Teymoueri and Leion Stolz Hunter: an honest situation that can so easily go very wrong.

And the tables turn again in Grace Finds Kelby Rex McGregor where social worker Grace finally finds Kel, the homeless man she is trying to rehouse. But actually gentle Kel doesn’t want to be rehoused at all and is content in his tent foraging on a diet of dandelion leaves. Understated and genuine performances here from Lizzie Cole and Pete Picton, in a short piece raising important questions about how society’s assumptions can so often be wrong.    

The final two offerings making up the evening didn’t quite fit the themes and perhaps suffered as a result.  Touch by Sally Sheringham brought a new perspective to a thoroughly contemporary post-Covid setting on the age old idea of a chance meeting leading to a connection between two strangers.  And Complete Sex by Monica Maffia raised the equally contemporary debate of gender and identity.     

All of the plays made good use of the unique space at Baron’s Court Theatre and were not overambitious in sets and lighting which made the evening zip along.   A slightly pernickety point – some of the plays used props, some mimed anything they needed and some used half and half. It would have been nice to have had consistency on this especially as the latter option is the least satisfactory!

I would also have liked more detail in the programme, especially about the writers.  All of the pieces felt accomplished, and did not fall into the trap of overwriting, so often the downfall of new writing.  More detail about the festival and its contributors would have helped put the evening in context.  This Reboot Festival of new writing is a bright new initiative of the Barons Court Theatre and deserves to be a better showcase for writers, directors and performers alike.  

So what of the taster menu I alluded to at the start?  All six plays left me thinking, but the two I will remember are Antigone and The Watchers for their incisive and perceptive writing and their well-judged performances.  I was impressed by how much you could say and leave unsaid in a fifteen-minute play to take away and remember. 

Claire Alexander, November 2022

Photography by Kibo Productions

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