[Short reviews of each individual plays can be found here]
Twelve plays over three distinct sessions, in one day. If you want to experience the depth and range of what’s important to young theatre makers right now, then Act II Festival really is worth checking out. Although you will need to wait until 2024 for the next one.
Positioning itself as a stepping stone between student and professional theatre, it brings together writers, directors and actors, with the only real rule being a twenty minutes max running time. Then all twelve productions are performed on two Saturdays at The Space in the Isle of Dogs. The location feels the perfect fit, being a venue that always does so much to support emerging creatives. And it’s lovely to see the place totally packed out, with the bar doing a roaring trade to boost the coffers with funds you know will be put towards delivering even more new shows in the future.
Artistic Director Amy Tickner does a great job as compere for the day. She avoids any long speeches ahead of each session, simply giving us the vital information (trigger warnings and the offer for people to leave and return if they feel the need), then she steps back to let the shows be the real stars. But it’s clear just how much work and effort that she and her team have put in to support and nurture all the seventy-eight – yes seventy-eight! – actors and creatives involved.
Unsurprisingly, with twelve shows some stand out more than others; when writing, directing and acting all seem in perfect harmony. Two that fall into that category are Breathe and Strangers. Both work well at twenty minutes, but could easily be developed into full length pieces. Both would surely fit well on a fringe stage such as Lion and Unicorn, with their contemporary themes and well-crafted styles.
Then there are others where one element works better than others. Sometimes writing shines out as showing great potential; Bliss Café clearly falls into this category. At other times actors excel; Leah Omonya’s one woman performance in The Art of Doing Nothing and Rubayet Al Sharif’s turn in the six-strong Lavender being two prime examples.
There are productions which tackle topics that are less well-trodden and so present something unique. Woman. Life. Freedom is inspired by the state murder of Mahsa Amin in Iran for not wearing her hijab correctly and gives a nuanced debate on a woman’s choice to wear one or not. Then, as someone who always laments the lack of horror on the stage, for me New Horizons is certainly one I’d love to see given further work, embellishing its already lovely central concept.
My one issue with the day is that all too often there were issues with volume and voice projection. Words were all too often lost, to the detraction of the play. The Space is not the quietest of venues; not just the external noises, especially when the sun is out and people make use of the lovely outside seating, but also because the wooden stage floor can result in thuds and squeaks that an actor has to contend with. But then that’s part of what events like this are about: giving emerging artists a place to learn about such problems.
For an event that lasts eight hours from start to finish, thankfully with a couple of nice breaks thrown in, the twelve offerings manage to each hold their own throughout. From first to last play there are enough signs that the future of fringe theatre is in safe hands, and I now have another list of names to keep an eye out for in the coming months and years.
Produced by: Act II
Festival Leaders: Jodie Braddick, Gabriele Osella and Caterina McNellis
Production Team leader: Cat Hervieu