Saturday, 10 November 2012

Blackshaw New Writing Night

Written by: Caroline Mathias (@caroveraclare)

Upstairs at The Horse, London

Blackshaw have been running New Writing nights for nearly two years, and have developed a format for the evening that really works. The audience are given wristbands so we can pop out between pieces, and each performance is followed by an opportunity to give feedback – either written anonymously or spoken into a dictaphone; and writers can pose specific questions if they want to know more about their audience’s response. This evening the programme featured four theatre pieces, but poetry, novel extracts and music are all accepted for this bi-monthly event.

The first performance is a monologue by Chris Wraysford, episode one of The Lady of the Ship. Claire Kenning – impressively off-book for almost all of it – narrates The Lady’s experiences working as an actress aboard a Cruise Liner. In a room full of actors and theatre graduates, material about agents and auditions needs to be well-judged – and many of the lines here got good laughs, as the audience sympathised with her pre-audition nerves and recognised the actor-dancer-singer types she described.

After a pause for feedback comes Shadow Line by Duncan Hands, an extract from a play based on three Joseph Conrad short stories. In a play dealing with storytelling and narrative it can be difficult for a short extract to make sense but I did get a sense of the ‘flashback’ structure of Con’s (Marek Hollands) tale, largely thanks to the energy invested by Alex Rand and Elizabeth Nicholson as Joe and Bea. Tall tales and seafaring stories are strong starting points and I would be interested to see where this goes.

Next is 25, a monologue which brings to life the ‘complex caricature’ responsible for blogs Make Mine a French Martini and The World According to LPJ. Elsie Rutterford’s performance is outstanding; her delivery so natural that several people in the audience thought she must have written it herself. Laura Patricia Jones’ script is clever and funny – again, material about 20-something graduates living in London is ideal for this audience as long as it’s good, and there were plenty of laughs throughout.

Finally, Florence Vincent’s Baby A – “a play which explores the ethical implications of a world in which everything can be reduced to statistics”. Nina and Jacob (Leanna Wigginton and Jack Riddiford) have paid to have their unborn child’s life mapped out for them using a urine sample and a computer programme. The ‘what if…’ foundation of the play is simple and effective, and the performances were strong - Lucie Cuthbertson-Twiggs’ clinically calm Doctor was totally unmoved by Nina and Jacob’s dilemma.

New writing nights are always interesting, sometimes brilliant – and the real appeal here, alongside an evening of varied and contrasting theatre, is the opportunity for writers, actors and directors to get honest, immediate feedback on their work. By making it so easy for the audience to respond – speaking their mind into a dictaphone or remaining anonymous if they wish – Blackshaw are ensuring that the night is useful as well as entertaining. 

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