Pros: Some graceful physical theatre in a vivacious 30’s venue.
Cons: A confusing mix of themes and impersonal performances across the board.
Some 13 years after the EMD Granada cinema closed to the public it has finally reopened, giving the people of Walthamstow and afar a lively 1930’s inspired hangout. It is now the home of Mirth, Marvel and Maud offering an eclectic assortment of music, food and theatre. What could be any better? Being a lover of all things vintage, I was looking forward to stepping back in time and seeing what the new owners had done to keep the authenticity of this wonderful building. I was even more excited to see what theatre they were bringing to this east London haunt. The second I walked in, I felt as though I was at one of Jay Gatsby’s lavish parties or on board the Titanic swooning at the chandeliers. Granted, it is now rather dilapidated, but you can see how lush it once was and there is definitely still an air of grandeur.
Before It Starts takes place in Maud, a small and disappointingly charmless space which has been drenched in thick, dark red paint to go with the cinema-style seats. Hanging from a wire on the stage are three school uniforms with ties that the cast will later put on, and in the corner a clumsily piled set of chairs.
Before It Starts was initially written by the artistic director of Naked Frank Theatre, but has since been adapted and redevised by the whole cast. It was originally pieced together as a Theatre in Education production and intended to confront the topic of homophobia in schools. It follows the story of Rachel, Shannon and Lucy, three seventeen-year-old girls who are growing up and experiencing the daunting dramas of being a teenager, including those that happen in a PHSE lesson. Combining scenes that include physical theatre, dialogue and recordings, this amateur performance requires a lot of attention.
With a running time of just an hour, the trio somehow manage to touch on sex, teenage pregnancy, cyber bullying, attempted suicide, infidelity and homophobia, causing each of the topics to feel rather trivial. The discussions that take place between the cast members are longwinded and at times feel awkwardly improvised. I couldn’t help wondering if they were actually making the story up as they went along. Though the cast members work hard to be convincing and relatable, characters seem underdeveloped. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t some good performances; Carleigh-Ann Portelli performs her physical scenes with elegance and grace and with a larger stage would have been a pleasure to watch at greater length. In between scenes, recordings inform the audience of facts and figures relevant to homophobia in the UK. Unfortunately the information is obscured by muffled sound, meaning that messages are missed and forgotten.
The biggest problem is the script. It is an admirable decision to tackle the topics of homophobia, sex and cyber-bullying on stage but a decision that must be treated with sincerity and respect. With the incessant swearing and mocking of sexual positions, it becomes boring, inappropriate and at times offensive. If this collective want to raise awareness of these themes they need to choose one to focus on and look at how it can be highlighted appropriately; drawing private parts on the stage and comparing Tetris shapes to women having sex just seems unimaginative and embarrassing. Though there were some chuckles coming from the audience, I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t for the right reasons.
Author: Carleigh-Ann Portelli
Producer: Naked Frank Theatre
Devised by: The cast of Naked Frank Theatre
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.