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Review: Act II Festival (Session 3), Hounslow Arts Centre

Act II Festival is a chance for emerging artists; writers, directors and performers, to gain valuable experience of putting on a professional show. This year the festival was split over three nights, with all the shows then repeated during one full day. The below reviews were from the performances on the Friday evening session.

You can also find a review of the festival itself here, Session 1 reviews here, and Session 2 here.

Good Mourning ★★★★

The first thing I note down as Good Mourning rolls onto the stage is just how lyrically the script flows. It therefore comes as no real surprise to discover that this show about grieving is set around the poetry of Charnjit Gill.

Gill’s words are beautifully presented by the trio of Isla Corbijn, Caitlyn Vary and Bri Malaika, who, along with director Erin Thomas, devised the work around them. It’s a play you just need to let wash over you as they speak of the grief of losing their grandmother, of the emptiness this leaves in their hearts. It is never morbid or woeful, but instead thoughtful and actually uplifting.

The play is further enhanced by Thomas’ clever staging. We begin with clothes driers filled with the grandmother’s clothes and belongings, but as one of the trio delivers their words, the remaining pair slowly remove items, carefully packing them away. Come the close, we are left with empty driers, much like the emptiness that death can bring to those left behind.

Good Mourning is a charming and thoughtful piece that perhaps needs to remain as a short only, but does act as a marvellous showcase for its team, especially Vary, whose performance is a real standout.

Written by: Charnjit Gill
DIrected by: Erin Thomas
Music composed by: Isla Corbijn
Cast: Isla Corbijn, Caitlyn Vary, Bri Malaika

Acme Romeo ★★

Sometimes as a reviewer you do wonder if you’re watching the same show as those around you, and Sam Smith’s Acme Romeo certainly created one of those moments. For whatever reason, it just never clicked for me, and yet there is no denying the majority of the audience seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it judging by the level of laughter it elicited.

R and J (Bella Rigwell and Luc De Freitas) are two lovers, circling each other in a series of short scenes, discussing everything there is to discuss, from sex to love to Shakespeare. Perhaps because this is a scratch version of a longer play, it loses something in the edit, leaving us with just a series of often amusing and clever lines, where the whole never really matches those individual moments.

It’s not helped by some questionable directing choices, especially the decision to have the briefest of blackouts to signal a new scene. These need to be longer, to allow actors to reset and for the audience to breathe and prepare for the next scene. But instead, they really are ‘blink and you miss it’, as I once did! It leaves Acme Romeo feeling rushed, when we should instead be given the time needed to absorb what is happening. Perhaps this is one that should have remained as a fuller length play and not cut down for the festival, so losing its impact.

Written by: Sam Smith
Directed by: Deepali Foster
Cast: Bella Rigwell, Luc De Freitas

No One Ever ★★

This festival is all about giving creatives and performers a chance to learn, and one thing directors need to learn quickly is how to best use the space available. Here Laila Ali’s decision to place much of the action on the floor at the front of the stage is one that should have been reconsidered. Even from just the third row of the raked seating, sightlines are poor as Katie Burke’s granddaughter sifts through boxes of belongings in her grandmother’s home. It’s frustrating to need to shift in your seat and crane your neck to get a glimpse of the actor when there is so much available space on Hounslow Art Centre’s very generous stage. I’d also suggest Ali should have reigned in Myrto Katsoulidou’s performance as the grandmother; it’s mildly amusing but way too much of a caricature of a potty older lady, which risks leaving the feel of a student production.

Marin Barisa’s script has some interesting ideas, but they need to be extended. The show blurb talks of exploring the changes in communications, from the plodding nature of postcards to the instantaneity of today’s electronic messaging. But there is way too much preamble before this idea is even introduced, and when it is, it’s over all too soon. There’s a promising idea at play here and elements of the script suggest that with more time Barisa is capable of better realising them.

Written by: Marin Barisa
Directed by: Laila Ali
Cast: Katie Burke, Myrto Katsoulidou

About Rob Warren

Someone once described Rob as "the left leaning arm of Everything Theatre" and it's a description he proudly accepted. It is also a description that explains many of his play choices, as he is most likely to be found at plays that try to say something about society. Willing though to give most things a watch, with the exception of anything immersive - he prefers to sit quietly at the back watching than taking part!