The Park Theatre is only a fortnight old. Hosting the second year of this short play festival run by The Pensive Federation it has already set a high bar for its programme under artistic director Jez Bond. The Significant Other Festival is the first public performance in the Morris Room at the theatre.
The concept is simple. Ten playwrights each write a play that lasts ten minutes. The play must be based around the phrase “significant other”, taken either to mean a romantic partner, or someone important or close in someone else’s life. Each play is produced by a single director and performed by two actors, and staged in just five days. This year, instead of giving these playwrights and directors free reign, producers Neil J. Byden, Serena Haywood and Laura Kim assign a specific genre for each play: from murder to musical, and comedy to crime.
The result is a wonderful and varied selection of theatrical treats. Almost all the plays are very well written and explore their assigned genre incredibly well. But the real success is just how well the directors cope with the limitations of a space that is supposedly finished. There’s nothing but a few black curtains over the windows, plain whitewashed walls, a few spots on a rig or two, and bits of bare plasterboard.
But The Pensive Federation and their collaborators demonstrate that you don’t have to be Peter Brook to create good theatre in an empty space. But this incomplete space is no hurdle to the directors and actors, and does little damage to this evening of great theatre.
There are, however, a few standout pieces. Penny Faith’s COYI is a gripping romantic comedy where football, gambling, and love collide. You’re cheering for the couple, played intensely by Lucy Fazey and Ryan Wichert, the whole way through this wonderful rollercoaster short. Whilst Caro Dixey’s Eastbound is a wonderfully deep yet playful look at friendship and belonging that doesn’t fail to charm and chime. Nina Moniri and Nathalie Pownall give some wonderfully natural, warm, and grounded performances here. And Mike Carter, Lemon Otter, and Franner Jordan’s A Month and Five Days is an uproarious minute musical.
Other pieces of note are those that really defy the studio space’s limitations. In particular how certain directors manipulate such minimal lighting resources. Cat Robey’s use of shadows for the comedy-cum-sinister noir achieves some great effects and is as a great opener to the programme. Whilst Bryony Thomas use of a torch in tense thriller It’s Not You is incredibly chilling.
The only play that didn’t really work was Rip It To Shreds. It has a really interesting premise, but its execution is muddied. Both the writing and direction is done in a way that you’re not quite sure what time period you’re in at any given point. Along with some stilted dialogue, its bleakness and clever narrative is overshadowed by this irksome execution.
Furthermore, the space is also a cumbrance. In fairness, the Morris Space is designed more as a rehearsal and workshop area than a performance space, especially when compared against the high-tech stages of theatres below. As a performance space its crowded and hot (the air conditioning didn’t appear to be working, and if it did it would have probably been a noisy distraction). Its flat quality also means that any action nearer the floor is an inevitable mystery to everyone but the front row.
But none the less, the novelty of the festival’s remit gives way to some wonderfully innovative and fun theatre. A great evening.
The Significant Other Festival plays at the Park Theatre, London, N4 3JP, until 25th May. Tickets are £10. To book, visit http://parktheatre.co.uk.