Pros: The evening offers a showcase for very different pieces of new work.
Cons: The pieces often felt under-rehearsed and over-written.
Mere weeks after I lambasted the Tabard Theatre for playing it safe with Alan Ayckbourn, they put on a weeklong festival of six new plays, and even if the two I saw on opening night weren’t completely stellar, the originality of them was exciting and I applaud the Tabard for giving them the stage.
The first play of the night was Fair Exchange, a neat half hour piece about British Pakistani Ayesha who is fiercely independent but also wants to appease her family who have been through troubling times. On a family holiday to Pakistan, she reluctantly agrees to marry distant relative Adam, not knowing he has his own reasons to be sceptical.
As we go through the years with Ayesha and Adam, I can’t help but feel attached and feel part of their secrets but unfortunately you can see the twist coming a mile off and there wasn’t much else to the plot to hold an audience’s interest. The dialogue feels a bit too heavy, though this could partly be because the whole thing felt under-rehearsed, and this wasn’t because of last-minute replacement Shiv Sharma who actually fared quite well despite being on-book for his role as Ayesha’s estranged father.
The piece ended on a half-baked conclusion that didn’t really feel like it resolved anything and I felt a little short-changed as a result. Fair Exchange seems like the start of something really interesting, exploring the shifting culture of modern Britain and how this interacts with Muslim family values. Indeed the bare bones of it are there, but sadly we spend most of the time skimming the surface and neither the acting nor the performance really gets under the skin of the subject.
Things brighten up after the interval, though only figuratively as We’ll Laugh at Gilded Butterflies tells the story of women on death row. There’s a lot to like about this piece, devised by East 15 students, as it has a lot of tender moments and some really slick ones too, as well as a terrific performance by Francesca McCrohn.
The story is well plotted and the characters fully formed but the writing just went slightly overboard. The dialogue drops subtle hints so that we build up ideas about McCrohn’s Maggie’s past and the crime she committed, but then everything is spelt out and it feels rather clunky. Samantha Pain was also given supplementary characters that added nothing to the overall story and felt unnecessary. Given the script was devised by the actors and director, I feel like the problem came from a lack of outside eyes, it just needed one person to say, “Less is more.” Again, the idea is strong and the execution (pardon the poor taste pun) is mainly good; it just needs a little sharpening.
I love going to The Tabard and the Playmakers festival shows it off at its best; as a hub for new creative talent and it will be great to see what else this week turns out.
Authors: Madhia Hussain Fair Exchange, Francesca McCrohn, Samantha Painand and Kathryn Papworth-Smith We’ll Laugh at Gilded Butterflies
Directors: Andy Twynman Fair Exchange, Kathryn Papworth-Smith Smith We’ll Laugh at Gilded Butterflies
Producer: Plane Paper Theatre Fair Exchange
Box Office: 0208 995 6035
Booking Link: https://live.advancedticketing.co.uk/k?v=tabard&item_type=103&general_event_event=Playmakers
Booking Until: These two shows finished on Tuesday 31 March but the festival runs until Saturday 4 April 2015.