Home » Reviews » Drama » Before It Starts, Mirth Marvel and Maud – Review
Credit: Naked Frank Theatre
Credit: Naked Frank Theatre

Before It Starts, Mirth Marvel and Maud – Review

Pros: Some graceful physical theatre in a vivacious 30’s venue.

Cons: A confusing mix of themes and impersonal performances across the board.

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…

Summary

Rating

Poor

Walthamstow’s new venue is beautifully dilapidated but the show itself doesn’t hit the nail on the head, with a rather thoughtless take on homophobia and cyberbullying.

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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.

About Grace Ward

Grace Ward
Grace is a director, writer, teacher, telephonist, daughter, wife and friend all rolled into one. Being a native northerner, she moved from Yorkshire to London over 10 years ago and has never looked back. Before taking the plunge into directing, Grace studied Physical Theatre and although there's nothing she loves more than gritty dialogue, she loves it when she's surprised by something a bit more physical. A lover of all things dark and disturbing, she will be the first to put her name down for anything that is not-so-middle-of-the-road.
  • Carleigh-Ann Portelli

    Thank you for an honest and critically reflective review of our show, Before It Starts. It has been very useful to hear the opinions from a range of different audiences and as the piece is in its early stages of development we have plenty of time and room for improvements.

    As a company we are disappointed to feel that the script may have been depicted as offensive and insensitive and as our purpose is to tackling homophobia we would certainly want to avoid this. The horrifying thing is that the script itself is part verbatim and all of the offensive slurs, language and connotations to Tetris etc, are actually real statements made by young people about gay relationships. We have simply changed the context to suit our school location. As a predominantly gay cast we intend no offense but feel very passionate about our work on homophobia and feel it is important to be more honest about the outrageous comments that young people make, which to them are seen as trivial.

    It is disappointing that perhaps we were not able to achieve all these intentions with our entire audience on this occasion and as our aim is to make certain that this show can relate to every audience member we would greatly appreciate further feedback on how you feel we could improve the clarity of the intended message. Please feel free to contact us via our email address: nakedfranktheatrecompany@email.com.

    Once again we would like to thank you for giving up your Friday night to see our work and providing us with some very helpful criticism.

    Naked Frank Theatre

  • Hi Carleigh-Ann
    Thank you for your open and measured response. All our reviewers approach shows from the starting point that they were created with care and passion, and that it’s a brave thing to do to offer up a piece of work (especially early stage work) for published criticism.

    I’m glad to hear that our comments will be helpful for the development of Before It Starts, and I will certainly pass on your email address to our reviewer in case she has anything further to add.

    We wish you the very best for the future of this piece, which obviously tackles difficult and important issues.
    Clare