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With their move to new premises complete and the clamour of the first new show – Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s high profile The Painter – now behind them, I decided to go along to the Arcola on a more subdued evening to get a feel for the new place. For one week only, the theatre was hosting a Box of Tricks flagship Word Play production, this time consisting of six short (15 minute) commissioned pieces inspired by the word ‘Revolution’.
Before jumping on the bus to make my way to the theatre, I decided to have a quick dictionary check of ‘revolution’. Pedantic, yes, and of course I know what it means, but six pieces inspired by a single word – I thought it it was worth a double check. So, to save you the trouble:
1. a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system; (in Marxism) the class struggle expected to lead to political change and the triumph of communism; and
2. a dramatic and wide reaching change.
I found myself feeling slightly excited at the potential these short pieces might unleash, thinking of the world news over the past several months – government overthrows becoming almost the norm – and the theatrical experimentation that could be afforded by the second meaning. Here, I thought, was the chance to morally dissect events splashed all over the news and present their distillation through a theatrically challenging prism.
On taking my seat for the first piece, it was clear that a major constraint for the writers would be the need to write for a single set workable across all six pieces and that there would be a limited pool of actors for them to choose from. So the revolution was already taking place within workable parameters. The audience were arranged around three sides of a set that, whilst basic, worked well and was flexible for what was required of it throughout the evening. It was particularly enhanced by some innovative lighting that was well designed for each piece.
Opening the series was Becky Prestwich’s King of the Castle, a two-hander that explored issues on the effects of fearful parental presence on the mental well-being of the kids. Developing from an altercation between the two children on what to watch on TV, it was a frenetic – if somewhat disjointed – opening salvo, but set the scene for what would follow throughout the evening.
The second sketch, Broken Windows by Daniel Smith, took an interesting turn and looked at graffiti artists being approached by political parties for publicity stunting. Banksy-esque in its scope, it managed to sustain by building tension between party leader and graffiti artist as well as deception between graffiti artists for their own commercial gain at the expense of any brotherhood creed or nobler values.
The third short of the first triptych – Jaki McCarrick’s The Collectors – did, thankfully, link in with the bankers! A kidnapped wife who assures her kidnapper that a husband of such moral disrepute would never pay a ransom for her – in fact would be thankful to her kidnappers – develops a strained rapport with him. A discussion of the Stockholm Syndrome and its opposite, the discussed Lima Syndrome, concludes with the woman shooting her kidnapper after he frees her. Textually interwoven with the forest nature of their hideout surrounds, human nature remained a mystery from this interesting short.
The second part of the evening offered three more interesting sketches, Sian Owen’s The Turn providing an atmospherically haunting scene from a fairground and Katie McCullough’s closing piece Let Them Eat Cake having a revolution of fate occurring between two couples, the superficially happy collapsing into despair and the apparently irreconcilable happily making up, the couples connected by the overspill of a food fight. But it was the central piece – Daniel Kanaber’s monologue David – that managed to hold my attention most. With an assured performance by James Rigby, this short had some beautiful lines and approached themes of sexual identity and the role of self in relationships from an intriguing perspective. Detached from the energy of all of the other short works, it had a curious furnace-like introspective core that was engaging. And buried in the text, in almost silent reference to revolution, were gentle lines such as “They reckon I should be free again soon.”
As a tableau the evening possibly didn’t unify under its word/catalyst basis and, although it doesn’t need to, it might have been worth exploring other possibilities of presenting it. It was also maybe not the description of revolution that I’d checked in the dictionary before stepping out that evening. But the revolutionary mood was back in Hackney, which is surely a good thing, as it can only spread. And the Arcola, a theatre that reflects all that is good and interesting about Hackney, is settling in nicely to its new home.
With the kind of profile that Box of Tricks and the Arcola are working together on for young playwrights, better things will most certainly come of it. Vive la revolutión!!!
The Arcola Theatre
Tele: 020 7503 1646.