Review: DDF 2016 The Black Box

‘perfectly versatile trio of distinct performances’

The setting of the evening of entertainment is pretty self-explanatory; four black curtains make up an intimate space which is split into a stage and a small audience. The intimacy was perfect for the small casts and the lack of structure to this basic arrangement was perfectly versatile for the trio of distinct performances: the melancholy Small Hours, follow by the comical Brand Flakes and then the final tragic, dark, yet ultimately hopeful The Lizards.

Small Hours

Small Hours was an absolute delight. Anna Jeary’s script perfectly captured that back-and-forth of late night chats with your best mate. With the two large, comfortable armchairs facing towards the audience, we were invited to join in on the conversation between the two nameless friends (Jasmine Price and Jenny Walser). Basking in a somewhat golden glow, it did not seem indecent to be listening in on the chatter of two best friends. Rather the intrigue of the sexual escapades, vaguely philosophical quips and discussion of possible futures seem to be open to all.

The namelessness of the characters really emphasised that not only could this be the conversations of any best friends, but the ill fate of one of the girls could be anyone’s fate. The cold, white lights that signalled a break from the conversational flow between the pair were at first slightly bewildering, but as the characters developed, the purpose of the interjections became clear. In hindsight, this method of breaks from the heart-to-heart was extremely effective yet simplistic. The revelation that the conversations were nothing but memories and “rewriting” of her friend was a wonderful perspective of loss. The performances of Price and Walser were flawless, never leaving the audience questioning the authenticity of their emotions and strength of their friendship. The brusque accusations that Price was misremembering Walser provided some theatrical tension in the white lights before they were re-immersed into the late night conversation by the geniality of Price repetitive inquiring whether Walser wanted a cup of tea. I truly thought the simplicity of this production was testament to the achievements of the script and the final scene was a truly wonderful exploration of friendship communicated from the comfort of two armchairs.

Brand Flakes

A comical overthrow from the emotions of the preceding play, Kate Lipson’s Brand Flakes was a window into the absurdity of the corporate. A team of three are tasked with coming up with a new cereal brand and the narrative follows them through the entire process of production for the new product. In the opening scene in the office think tank, the comedy was light as the positions of each character were revealed; Nick (Ben George) as the team leader with overbearing ideas, Leah (Eliza Cummings-Cove) as an intelligent and sarcastic employee who would rather be anywhere else, and the loveably naïve Adam (Archie Law). Their roles were balanced and provided plenty of opportunity for comedy.

Praise is indeed due to the actors, who throughout maintained consistent comical expressions and delivery, faltering on delivery only a couple of times. This was barely noticeable in light of the well timed execution of scenes such as Adam’s mime show of thinking “outside of the cereal box”. Progressively, the script drew darker humour into the scenes, yet there were still the elements of farce, such as the metatheatrical production of the advert in the boardroom and the scrap in front of the whiteboard. This scrap was a good use of the set, which filled the stage without cluttering and distracting from the action. Not only is it hard to successfully produce comedy, but it is even more difficult to write it and therefore, I highly commend Kate Lipson. There were moments were the whole audience were roaring with laughter, and Leah’s musing that “there are no female cereal brand mascots and there has only been one female prime minister, which cannot be a coincidence” was brilliant. A successful and tickling corporate comedy.

The Lizards

Nikil Vyas’ The Lizards was an ambitious piece, not falling into any particular genre, rather balancing precariously in a state of tragicomedy. A bunch of aging guys stuck in the stereotype of ‘boyband’ have managed to bag a set at Reading Festival and the action is set in the five hours before this monumental performance. Set in the shabby caravan backstage, this play cannot be said to lack drama and unexpected twists. The premise of the plunging success of a boyband was promising and the extravagant character of Chaz (reminiscent of the character of Blades of Glory) was delightful. All the characters seemed to be having an existential/quarter-life crisis, perhaps epitomised in Chaz. Tristan Carman’s performance added a spunk and youthful edge to the play, partly because of his garish Hawaiian shirt and partly because of his consistent optimistic outlook for the band.

Unfortunately I think there were too many twists to let the plot properly settle; the audience’s emotions were affected with such frequency that at times one wasn’t able to properly empathise with the heart-wrenching ordeals of the characters. Mark (Adam Evans) was undeniably a pitiful character with the air of always being the kid that got picked last for the sports teams at school. His declaration of love for his fellow bandmate, Will (Sasoon Moskofian), was both terribly awkward and amusing, and left one’s stomach turning. As the play was set in a very short time span, there is little build-up to this revelation and it came as all the more shocking. Perhaps without the riling effect of the ex-bandmate Jason, the play would have had added realism as there would not have been such a tumbling series of revelations. The sassy manager Pam (Grace Bryan) was well performed and seemed to revel in her position of motivator to the waste men who made up The Lizards. The cast carried the piece well and should be fully commended for their performance.

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