Dirty Stop Outs

Mon 19th – Sun 25th November 2012

reviews

Olivia Lace-Evans

at 10:28 on 26th Nov 2012

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I walked into the Bierkeller Theatre and immediately I knew this was going to be a theatrical experience unlike anything I’d seen before. The night presented a huge variety of talented pieces of new writing and the energetic cast really brought the scripts alive in what was a very difficult space to work in. All in all I had a good night and I really enjoyed my first taster of realist theatre.

‘Dirty Stop Outs’ was an evening of six new pieces of writing inspired by the Bierkeller space. The whole event was spaced around the venue, with the audience moving from the bar, to backstage and even at one point into the toilets. The dark and grimy ambiance of the venue worked perfectly with the scripts and gave the cast a real chance to experiment. Nancy Medina and Anna Girvan’s direction should be applauded here as the innovative use of the space and the originality of the concept was great.

As soon as you walked in you were encompassed by the performance, with cheesy club songs blaring away while members of the cast integrated seamlessly into the audience and danced around ‘drunkenly’. The first piece, titled ‘One Last One’ and written by Helen K Parker, immediately catapulted us into the action with a drunk businessman bursting into the bar attempting to get a last pint before hitting the road. This wasn’t the most original concept, the ‘average joe’ barman criticizing the contemptible and greedy banker, however the energy of the piece and the lyrical nature of the words really made it come alive and it was a strong way to open the show. The two actors, Tony Kennedy and Joe Shire, had a good chemistry and although the start was a bit stilted they certainly grew into their characters and kept the audience’s attention.

Rebecca Megson’s ‘Dancing to the moon’ came next, taking us over to the pole dancing stage where we were presented by a 3 woman hen party drunkenly discussing relationships and sex. Unfortunately for me this was the weakest piece of the night. The acting felt more laboured than other pieces and I failed to connect with the characters. This may have been due to the fact that they remained glued to the poles throughout the scene so movement felt fragmented. However, by the time the energy and pacing of the piece was livened up we were already walking over to the pool table for our next scene.

Fortunately the following scene was my favourite piece of the evening, Heather Lister’s beautiful and haunting ‘Swoop’. A slightly more theatrical adaptation we see a man, his mother and a prostitute explore the complex world of lust, lonliness and regret. This had the potential to be very clichéd and superficial and yet I was subduing a lump in my throat when the powerful extract came to a close. The pacing was perfect and the performances felt raw and incredibly sincere. The three actors should be praised for their excellent performances and Heather’s writing deserves a huge amount of credit. It was powerful, genuine and moving.

And now we come to the toilet scene, aptly titled ‘Toilets’ written by Eleanor Blaney. Suffice to say I have never seen a theatrical performance in a toilet and yet it worked! Although it was extremely strange seeing a man urinating multiple times in a toilet, the realism of the piece was extremely well executed and the comic timing was good.

Eleanor’s second piece ‘Backstage Burlesque’ followed and despite the fact that there wasn’t a single word that was spoken this was one of the best pieces of the evening. On the surface of it we were simply watching a Burlesque dancer prepare for a show, and yet Tuesday Leveav’s performance kept our attention and interest throughout. The beautifully fragile moment where she sadly looks over to a ringing phone without answering was brilliant. This was realist theatre at it’s best, encompassing the audience in a single moment in time without tainting it with unecessary expression. A very well thought out piece.

And so we came to the final piece, titled ‘How to Make an Exit’ by Carrie Rhys Davies. This had the potential to pack a punch and really leave the audience wanting more. However the length of the extract meant that by the end of it I was more than willing to make an exit. The repetition within the text was witty at the start but as time went on it merely provoked impatience and suggested a lack of originality in the script. Furthermore the dragging sensation meant that the originally funny acting of Jesse Meadows became laboured and forced leading to a lack of interest towards the close of the evening.

Although there were some great pieces which really stood out, namely ‘Swoop’ and ‘Backstage Burlesque’, the show wasn’t perfect. I would say all the writing was good but some of the performances needed a bit more polish and revision. The scene changes meant that sometimes fluidity was lost and as a result there were points where your connection with the performances was broken whilst waiting for the next piece to start. Overall the evening was good but due to the various standards of the extracts and the dragging sensation of the last piece I was left with mixed conclusions. However, there was a huge amount of potential and I would be very interested to see what this company and the writers will come up with next.

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Anwen Jones

at 18:26 on 28th Nov 2012

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I have never seen a show performed in the dimly-lit space of an active nightclub before. In fact, staging hard-hitting, professional theatre in such a venue seemed to me virtually impossible - how could I enjoy a piece of drama when my shoes stuck grimly to an alcohol stained floor and grimy music pelted my ears?

SanaRT Theatre Company did much to answer my question and to make me swallow my words.

Sitting down on a wooden bench with a plastic glass of cheap wine in my hand, staring at a nearly deserted dance floor (save two incredibly drunk men who shuffled around aimlessly) did make me recall some terrible failed nights out. Yes, I was most definitely in a dirty nightclub with a few drags of society drowning their sorrows in sharp smelling alcohol. However, this was the perfect setting for what was to follow.

By incorporating 6 different pieces of new theatrical writing, the SanaRT Theatre definitely had a challenge on its hands but the first piece titled 'One Last One' immediately launched the audience into the shadows of a late night bar and club. The booming voice of a drunk, dissatisfied business man (played by Tony Kennedy) threw everything off balance as he appeared so suddenly from the crowded audience. It was plain to see that we were now intrinsically linked with what was going on in front of us, we were watching a real-life performance. The piece, created by Helen K Parker, was well written and included some brilliantly crafted lyrical phrases which Kennedy smoothly delivered to a slightly stunned audience. Although the concept of a depressed money-loving man set up in opposition to the moral, low-earning bar tender (Joe Shire) was somewhat obvious, both actors' characterisation and interaction with one another was right on point and hauntingly realistic. It was a competent start to the show and immediately added the flavour of realism to the production as a whole.

The second piece required the audience to move from the centre of the club to a corner area where 3 scantily clad girls, tottering on high heels were casually clinging to some dancing polls. Admittedly, this piece - 'Dancing to the Moon' written by Rebecca Megson - was perhaps my least favourite of the evening simply because of it's unoriginal subject matter of the explicit presentation of female sexuality vs feminism. However, the pace did pick up towards the end when an outburst from the previously shy, softly spoken Laura (Michala Meadows) provided an unexpected but well needed influx of energy.

A turn to our right saw the beginning of the third piece of new writing, 'Swoop' written by Heather Lister. It was an incredibly sensitive, realist portrayal of the secret disguised feelings of anger, guilt, depression and hopelessness which exist within many individuals. Not only did the staging make excellent innovative use of a club space - it was set around a pool table - but the cleverness of the script to move fluidly between one character and the next, eventually connecting all three individuals in a cohesive, beautifully tragic scene, shows the skill of both Lister and the three actors involved. In particular, Greg Sheuvering's stark switch from cheeky chappy to damaged, abusive thrill seeker was incredibly effective, leaving the audience shocked at their initial feelings of tenderness towards his character. An exceptional piece of writing, backed by some very talent acting.

The fourth piece, aptly named 'Toilets' by Eleanor Blaney, was by far my favourite of the night. First and foremost, to create a piece of theatre based in the small, grubby, space of a club's restrooms was a definite risk which was pulled off in a wonderful style. As we gathered together around the pale yellow sinks, toilet paper sticking to our shoes, a hilarious, realistic scene was played out in front of us between cubicle doors involving two, dim-witted friends - Crofty (Brian Telby) and Deano (Marcus Donnell). The sense of character, especially in the case of Brian Telby, was exceptional and had most of the audience, bar one woman who still looked like she couldn't believe she was watching drama in a stinking public toilet, in stitches. Praise should go to both actors but the real success lies in Blaney's innovative script and it's exploration of the dark comedic happenings that occur in the strangest of places.

Next, we were led into a small, dark dressing room where a woman sat in front of a mirror. Another piece written by Blaney, 'Backstage Burlesque' was hauntingly beautiful. Despite the fact that no words were ever uttered from Tuesday Leveav's lips, her careful consideration of body movement and expressive facial expressions left everyone in the audience stunned. The especially poignant moment of the phone ringing and Leveav's shoulders rising up and down waiting for it to stop sent chills down my spine. It was truly beautiful and moving.

The final piece of the evening titled 'How to Make an Exit' by Carrie Rhys Davies saw us following a totally smashed party-goer down the stairs to the exit doors. Jesse Meadows performance was an incredibly accurate portrayal of that token drunk girl, falling over her high heels and frantically grabbing random people she mistakes for being her friends. Carrie Rhys Davies' writing was embarrassingly familiar to most people in the audience with references to the decision to walk home barefoot and chat up strangers to avoid an early exit. If anything the piece was a little too long and, in my opinion, the repeated phrases became rather taxing towards the end but Meadows' facial expressions helped to maintain a comedic edge.

Quite simply, I could never have prepared myself for Dirty Stop Outs. It was exactly what the title supposes it to be - a realist portrayal of everyday characters in a usual nightclub. SanaRT Theatre Company managed to make the normal appear both comical and beautiful, with hints of light and dark throughout all of the performances. I must praise Nancy Medina and Anna Girvan for creating such coherence between pieces and for tackling the difficult space. By the end, I didn't even mind that my shoes kept sticking to the floor or that I left a trail of toilet paper in my wake - it was all part of the experience, an experience I was lucky to have.

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