This year’s New Writing Festival is off to a cracking start with a smorgasbord of promising new writing in a packed Michael Pilch Studio. This was a great example of the Pilch being used as it was intended: there is definitely something about the venue being student-led and not attached to the imposing OP that feels more accommodating, making it the perfect space for new writing.
As ‘A Serious Scene’ (Ellie Siora) started, my heart sank as Cameron Kirkpatrick began an affected speech underscored by equally affected held string chords. Needless to say the joke was completely on me, as Kirpatrick broke character and together with Tina Hill and Dan O’Driscoll set about a tongue-in-cheek satire of a university drama society (sound familiar?). All in all, the tone was set for the evening, and Kirkpatrick made particularly good use of an overly enthusiastic front-row audience member, whose laugh I can still hear now.
We next heard Josh Rawley’s efforts at ‘Sometimes Silence’ by Sarah Grunnah. This was the first of two pieces to use an American accent, and though Rawley’s voice was convincing I felt he could have used the space better. He seemed slightly unaware of the audience on three sides, but nevertheless communicated the text well. Some of the louder moments in the piece also seemed to come from nowhere, though this may have been down to some elements in the writing that could have been developed further. Overall, however, ‘Sometimes Silence’ is an interesting piece that Grunnah could potentially look at developing into a play in its own right.
‘Aristeas’ gets my vote for the best two-hander. Georgie Botham has achieved a wonderful Godot-esque quality to her characters (played by Philippa Lawford and Alex Rugman), who judged their roles excellently. As two detectives working endlessly on a case they can never solve, both Lawford and Rugman remained positive in this limbo as they ‘worked’ every day filing reports, finding hope in the false sense of opportunity that a new day brings. ‘Aristeas’ was wonderfully written and like nothing I’d expected.
After ‘Aristeas’ came the other triumph of the evening, Lucia Proctor-Bonbright in ‘Cigarette in the Sky’. Grunnah’s piece is captivating, and Proctor-Bonbright had absolute control of the space. Initially the Texan accent worried me, but I ended up warming to it. Proctor-Bonbright’s characterisation, coupled with some poetic-without-being-too-flowery imagery, was a knock out combination.
Finishing the evening was Nick Smart’s ‘Hesper’, which was brilliantly judged by Rory Grant. A humorous monologue that traversed the meaning of life through plum pudding and repeated single words until their meanings altered, the piece was quirky both in its delivery and its text. Grant appeared relaxed in the space, and was therefore able to deliver the speech with diction that was at once crystal clear and not over-done.
As this review reflects, there was an intriguing amount of variety in the Pilch last night. It was good to see some new faces, and I felt the directors worked sympathetically with the intimate setting and minimal staging. Unfortunately I cannot recommend you go and see this ‘one off’, so instead I invite you to follow the development of these writers, as an awful lot of potential was evident last night.