A wonderful theatrical experiment, with simple and effective staging, thoughtful performances and one or two moments of literary brilliance. The Significant Other Festival is a great night out, but be prepared to stomach a few unintentionally cringe-worthy moments.
Humid, Flurry, Inclement, Tornado, Gust, Overcast, Thaw, Haze, Cold Front, Drought and Sunny Spills. 11 words given to 11 writers, each tasked with writing a 10 minute play about the “significant other”, An interesting concept made even more interesting by the fact the whole creative process, from the first written word to the first performance took only 10 days. As I sat in the auditorium, watching a smoke machine breath out across a stage covered in fake grass and a few hanging branches, I became vicariously nauseous at the thought of being involved in such an experiment. For even the most seasoned of professionals, producing 110 minutes of material in as little ten days would not be an easy task. I feel it is important to remember this fact when going to see The Significant Other Festival.
Every play had something about it which made it intriguing, funny or at the very least watchable. But there were a few which stood head and shoulders above the rest; so good even, that it’s hard to imagine their conceptualising and staging happening in a time span of less than two weeks.
Tornado, written by Lydia Rynne, rather appropriately ‘blew me away’. This surreal play tells the story of three wedding guests, who appear to be lost inside a maze. As they await the promised “search party” to take them to the venue, the characters – who were initially angsty – begin open up to each other about life, love and their thoughts on the rigmarole of marriage. Lydia’s dialog was pacy, punchy and hilarious right from the off and the performances (Nick Pearse, Kate Tulloch and Roberto Landi) were slick and effortless. Director Sara Reimers did an excellent job at balancing both farce and naturalism, perfect for a text like Tornado, which to me was like a blend of Huis Clos and The Zoo Story. The audience was in stitches from start to finish, which made it all the more effective when the play’s final minutes took a slightly sorrowful turn. “I wish you all the best in love and luck…but mostly luck.”
Thaw was nothing short of brilliant; writer Reece Connolly is clearly a very witty and intelligent man. His characters had such well defined voices and status, and the one-liners had me cackling and wriggly around in my chair (an occupational hazard for a reviewer trying to remain inconspicuous). Perhaps what made the play even more exceptional was the fully-realised performance given by Evelyn Lockley, whose frantic physicality and personalised use of the text made it seem like the part was written specifically for her. A West-End smash hit squeezed into 10 minutes; a play definitely worth extending and taken on to further venues.
There were other note-worthy plays in The Significant Other Festival that just fell short in a few places. Flurry told the story of three young women returning to the site of an ‘accidental’ murder they were involved in years before. The atmosphere was bone-chilling (courtesy of excellent sound and light design) and the dialog deliberately and effectively sparse. But the performances weren’t quite committed enough to have me believe these young women had really been involved in covering up a murder. Inclement had a lot of potential: Coward-esque portrayal of a middle-aged married couple coping with the presence of the husband’s ex-wife. Unfortunately the pace dragged in the latter half and I found myself becoming indifferent to the drama. This was most likely due to the direction and the acting as the script was competent and played nicely with the idea of Sentimentality vs. Materialism.
If someone asked me to go and see the production again, I would say yes. The Significant Other Festival is a wonderful experiment; staged simply, woven together seamlessly by a sarcastic voiceover and performed with great commitment and energy. But in all honesty, I feel as though this is a production that can only be fully appreciated by those who are involved in the creation of theatre. The Pensive Federation have done a splendid job at getting The Significant Other Festival together in the time that they have and perhaps that would be overlooked by someone simply looking for a ‘fun night out’. Nevertheless, it’s inspiring to see actors, writers and directors pushing the boundaries of creativity and putting together something that isn’t just for the sake of entertainment.