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Unseasoned

BackHere! Theatre’s inaugural production brings you five short plays and four monologues, all being performed for the very first time in the warmth of an east end pub. With a wide array of stories, “Unseasoned” promises to offer something for every spectator. Alongside the show, all the writers and producers will be present, giving audience members the unique opportunity to meet the company in a relaxed environment.

Reviews

Reviews of Unseasoned
Click Review to read!

A View From the Gods 4*
Between the Reeds 4*
Oxford Drama 4* (See Below)

A review from Nick Burns of Oxford Drama.

Unseasoned” by BackHere! Theatre Co.

****
The function room of The Shooting Star Pub in E1 provided a suitably organic space for a well-chosen and ordered collection of dramatic vignettes, most of them focusing of crafting stories through dialogues of a length one might have at a local.

Anya O’Sullivan had a tough job opening the evening with the audience about three feet away from her as she performed Rianna Dearden’s ‘Clock Tocking’, a mildly psychotic inner narrative concerning tube travel with which most of us will identify. Finding the right volume for the room was a struggle at first but she soon got into her stride and kicked off proceedings with a competent performance of a difficult role. Her repeated scream of the word “fuck” at the climactic point was almost over-acted, but this worked very nicely to amusingly portray the melodrama of our thoughts when they are forced to dwell obsessively on the failings others.

Up second was the standout piece of the evening: ‘He(art)’ by Andrew Maddock. It gave us three conversations between a couple with discordant personalities. Humour, the philosophy of aesthetics, tragedy, love, failure and forgiveness were blended into a performance which overflowed with pathos. Helena Doughty and Michael Butcher were faultless in their performance of dialogue that never jarred, never hit a flat note, but instead seemed to flow seamlessly from the characters right before our eyes. Andrew Maddock has a very naturalistic pen, all the more impressive for the deep wells of meaning, metaphor, past and future that lay swirling beneath the sentences. One of the many messages encoded in the performance seemed to me to be that good art requires a narrative behind it, even if it’s only a captured moment. The meta-theatrical embrace of this principle by the piece as a whole was deeply satisfying. Rarely for such an ambitious piece, it was also quite simply entertaining and absorbing, and had the audience laughing as much as it held them in trepidation for the characters introduced only a few minutes before.

I forgave Liam Mansfield for the poor grammar of the title of his piece ‘Death, Disillusion and a Tramp’, as he managed to pull off a monologue that must have been extremely difficult to sustain. He had set himself the task of portraying the distress of lost young man with a broken family through a persona that always sought to laugh his story off. He rose to the challenge and not only sustained a performance that took us from a broken washing machine to drinking the white lightening left by a tramp at a bus shelter, but he allowed it to grow and develop naturally from the voice of his character. Some fine acting saw the more emotive lines powerfully delivered, even with the first half having skirted dangerously with being a little too like stand-up. This was one of the view pieces of the night which probably couldn’t have been taken any further, but it stood on its own dramatic feet perfectly well.

Road’s End’ by Daisy Jo Lucas found itself in the opposite situation. It was a piece about two women drawn by mundane horrors of their lives to a chance meeting in the bar, in which they were to confess these horrors and find consolation in each other. It had a lot of potential, with plenty of good ideas – however, the dialogue was clunky, and it failed to engage the audience with its rather stodgy portrayal themes of loneliness and disconnection which we have grown somewhat used to in modern drama. It was far from a complete failure, but next to the sparkle and polish of much of what else was on offer it struggled.

Next was ‘Grinding’, by Craig Henry, a gloriously explicit and laugh out loud commentary on the tragedy of 21st century romance. Here the theme of disconnection and isolation was innovatively worked through a meeting between a boy and girl for sex, arranged over the internet. With elements of farce, drawing psycho-sexual inspiration from plays such as ‘Closer’, and with some fantastically weighted delivery of tightly worked dialogue ‘ Grinding’ provides a wonderfully voyeuristic view of a frustrated attempt at intimacy and fulfilment. The frisson of hearing Emma Jane Clarke ’s character express a wish to be ‘filled with hot cum’ (“that’s what it said in your email”) is all the more enjoyable as such lines are completely justified and even demanded by the dramatic context – and this could be heard in the relaxed amusement and fascination of the demographically diverse audience’s response. Nothing was gratuitous, and the ascendancy of Ms Clarke’s character over that of the brilliantly subdued Harry Anton made the drama work like a charm. I was disappointed in the ending before the interval, only to have the show restart with an unannounced second half to the piece. Still the eventual ending needs work, but all the more so because it’s such a gem of a script over-all. Like ‘He(art)’, ‘Grinding’ struck me as a piece of writing by a writer who knows his own voice, and as such represents the germ of a far larger production: one I hope to see it in the future.

In the Mud’ by Bethan Cullinane was the shortest piece of the evening, but it packed an emotional punch far above its weight. A short monologue on one woman’s attempt to keep smiling and busy after the death of a loved one in world war two was an acutely observed piece of period writing, as well as being incisive with regard the common human psychology of grief. It was done full justice by Bethan’s performance.

He is Heavy’ by Bobby Hirston was a solid piece of good character acting. It’s exploration of a fraternal relationship in the heavy tones of the Yorkshire dialect provided a refreshing tonal balance to the dialogue of the evening as a whole. Good, muscular writing drove the piece along and made it an incredibly engaging performance to watch, especially given the subdued feel of grief and tension with which it was riven. Like all the best performances on the night there were flashes of what I would call ‘organic’ comedy, pulled off with panache by Bobby Hirston and Sam Connelly on stage (“she hit me round the face with a fuckin’ shoe!” comes to mind) It’s observation of family relationships was underpinned with pathos, and the more emotive lines were very well weighted. Overall it was a fine piece of work. Finally ‘In Our Profession’ by Tennessee Williams was the perfect way to round off the evening. I was astounded by the skill of the actors in maintaining American accents more convincing than those of many Americans I’ve met. Moreover this again added tonal texture to the collection. More purely farce, it followed the slightly unhinged attempts of Bethan Cullaine’s character to snare a husband. The physical acting was superb from the leading lady, Andy Apollo, and Josh O’Connor. It was clearly well rehearsed and performed with a satisfying commitment to the characters. Most importantly, however, it was fun; it sent the whole audience home with the smile of having been thoroughly entertained.

So in sum then, what can be said of Helena Doughty and Craig Henry’s first production as the BackHere! Theatre Company? Individual pieces aside, the ensemble provoked me only to praise. Their quality is evidence of acute vision for a script’s dramatic potential. The full house is evidence of a slick and professional operation, and the skillful arrangement of the pieces (along with their variety and balance) shows that this is a company that has a clear and sharp eye for how to stimulate and entertain an audience. They know their art: may they prosper as their talent guides them through the deep pools of creativity in Great Britain’s dramatic culture.