(Second review within 24 hours. Check your feeds and/or below for the RZ's review of Riflemind at Trafalgar Studios.)
Ripped from the headlines, it’s Law and Order...er...make that a pair of one-acts at the Baron’s Court. And despite the onset of dehydration combined with the sweatbox heat of the theatre and the assault on the RZ’s abilities and judgement by Riflemind, he managed to make it through both of them.
First up: For the Public Good by Alice Josephs. Based on a recent BBC investigation, the play is framed by a group of women digging around in an old asylum: Isabel (Antonia Christy) is trying to put her family tree together and great aunt Eva has disappeared from all records. An anonymous email to journalist Misty (Laura Waddell) and a pair of friends make the trek to the disused building, and the group are met by former guard turned bag lady Fran (Hilary Burns). As the group are taken through the past, it is revealed that Typhoid carriers, though healthy, were imprisoned in the name of public safety.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s a brief 45 minutes and Josephs does a good job of interpolating the modern characters’ interrogations with the past’s ghosts acting out the events. Burns bounces from evil nurse to guilty conscience with ease, and the cast are decent enough though this isn’t a play to see for the acting.
A more upbeat second work, Heather Johnston’s Celebritney is more of a drama than the comedy the RZ was hoping for, and yet it still works: manager Vee Vee (Jenna Goodwin) and image consultant Jacinta (Rachel Lynes) are stuck with the challenge of turning ultra-boring goody-goody pink teen-pop queen Taysha (Natalie Louka) into an arsekicking bad girl in time to take the coveted Christmas #1. The problem is that Taysha’s management (her unseen single mother) has made sure that her daughter’s lifestyle has remained squeaky clean. Desperate for a scandal to keep their cash cow in the press, the pair begin seeking out ways of manufacturing controversy.
To be honest, there’s nothing particularly surprising about Celebritney, but it manages to stay amusing throughout and knows to wrap up just as it starts to outstay its welcome. The RZ wishes, however, that Johnston had given her characters a bit more depth: the trio here are all rather two-dimensional which is a shame because the script has a nice subplot polygon (this links to that which comes back elsewhere...) that shows Johnston’s potential as seeming throwaways bubble up to the surface.
There’s also the question of music, or the lack thereof. Any play about a band or a musician needs to have plenty of tunes. Instead, Celebritney relies heavily on a single track constantly repeated whenever there’s a scene change or someone flips on their stereo. And like bad pop music, it gets old FAST. The RZ wasn’t taking notes to count, but if he had to wager a guess, the same 45 second sample was probably heard between 10 and 12 times in the hour runtime - and it wasn’t even that good. Fledgling producers take note: royalty free collections, creative commons, and the podsafe network all have stacks and stacks of cheap (or free) to use music (within reasons and limits) to prevent your audiences from wanting to scream at your low budget.
So overall? Despite the heat and the headache, the RZ found these to be pretty decent and he’s not just saying that because he got a press comp for shilling the press release. Neither piece was amazing, but both were competent and the RZ is fond of short form evenings: if you don’t like what’s on now, something else is coming up which may suit you better. And hey, it’s cheaper than a trip to Trafalgar.
Where: Barons Court Theatre
When: Until 28 Sep., Tu-Su @ 19:30
How Much: £10, unreserved
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £7. It’s tempting to go for the 10, but annoying music deserves a penalty.
RZ Other Notes: This pairing makes the RZ wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea for someone to start a company and do regular evenings of short plays (e.g. four 20-30 min. pieces) based on current events. Sorta like the Neo-Futurists but longer and less self-involved.