Fruitful, a new collaboration between Jamie Lee Pike and The Bridewell Theatre, presents refreshingly high quality new writing from emerging playwrights. Covering six short pieces, ranging from first showings to extracts from larger works-in-progress, the overall standard was exceptional and pleasingly challenges the preconception that scratch nights can be very hit-and-miss. In providing a platform for actors, writers and directors to work with new people and reach new audiences, the aptly named Fruitful’s carefully curated programme proved itself to be a rich source of establishing talent for people looking to cast, find new work to programme elsewhere or collaborators for their own projects.
London may have many similar nights, but what really makes this one worthy of attention, aside from the sheer quality, were the opportunities to talk with fellow creatives around the performances. Set in Bridewell’s beautiful Victorian swimming pool venue, with drinks, music performances and karaoke to keep everyone engaged, chances to talk to the people involved were well engineered, helping you to establish your own creative network, either by finding a future colleague or just sharing your own current projects. Fruitful really gets to the heart of what makes these nights useful; not only showcasing new work, but providing the chance to meet others to work with.
Future Fruitful nights are as yet unscheduled – it’s currently London’s best kept theatre secret – but keep an eye on the Bridewell Theatre website for further developments..
Angels by Patrick Harris
A complex exploration of second chances, Fruitful was fittingly Angels’ second outing, having premiered at the Arcola a few months ago. We follow recently deceased Michael (played by William Hudson Ashcroft) into ‘Reincarnation and Transitional Services’, where writer Patch Harris gives the afterlife the full customer service treatment. It’s purgatory for the modern age; angels have office chairs and paperwork, and the deceased are assigned caseworkers to decide what level of reincarnation they deserve. He knows what everyone’s thinking; it’s got to be a cat. The pinnacle of lazy, entitled existence and the ultimate life form to aspire to. Unfortunately, Michael may not be so lucky as his celestial ‘Transitional’ support worker Angela looks over his past misdeeds.
With a new cast and directors, the piece has undergone its own reincarnation for this second public showing. Anna Snow’s Angela is engagingly sweet, and across the wide range of characters she plays throughout the whole evening of shorts, she is always completely authentic – a true character actress. William Hudson Ashcroft performs his quick emotional transformation with ease, and he gets the best stage exit – propelled by wheely chair. Directors Hannah and Emma have created a tight, purposed performance that manages to ask more questions than it answers. Shorts tend to feel more successful when they come in strong and leave abruptly, creating vacuums that your mind has to think over. With its quick climbs and a strong sense of identity, Angels is a great opener for the night.
Cast: Anna Swan, William Hudson Ashcroft
Directed by Hannah Sharkey and Emma Nutland
A Place by Mairtin Dwyer
A Place follows an unhappy sibling reunion, folding in a myriad of past experiences and reference points to build a complex and perhaps uncomfortably recognizable brother-sister relationship in bad need of rescuing. Piers Foley, as brother Aeden, delivers a powerful and emotionally charged performance, with a skillful and well directed character transformation from initial guardedness to open vulnerability. The set, simply a taped out outline of a room on the floor, was both an ingenious way of delineating space quickly and in budget on the black box stage, but also thoughtfully echoed the narrative, by turning the location into a life size version of an estate agent floor plan.
Taking into account the limitations of shorts, A Place‘s character development seems somewhat unbalanced, as we learn little about the sister Eibhleann (played by Gillian Horgan), whilst numerous references to past events and shared memories become confusing and don’t necessarily feed into the relationship we’re witnessing on the stage. However writer Mairtin confronts some ambitious topics: economic ruin, marital breakdown, and the definition of modern masculinity. A Place makes a great starting point for a longer piece, that could explore the smaller story lines and questions it opens up in more detail.
Cast: Piers Foley, Gillian Horgan
Directed by Fran Rafferty
Real Life Presents by Anna Swan
An intelligent use of a familiar media format to push a strong moral message, Real Life Presents is a fantastic satire of both the reality TV genre, and current acceptance of rape culture. Following a female friendship group as they negotiate a slick chat show host’s questions about their relationships, it feels like a live-action-roleplay of a Cosmopolitan magazine quiz. At first, hugely comedic and admirable in its development of complex female relationships, but in its final stage writer Anna Snow cleverly reveals the pressure that women are under to laugh off sexual assault and accept it as a normal everyday occurrence. By presenting it as an accepted part of relationships, and something so ever-preset that you can’t questions people about their dating rules without bringing up violent scenarios, we are reminded just how high the rates of sexual agression are. This final revelation is made all the stronger by its contrast to the earlier, softer narrative that plays with chat show satire.
Kristina Epenetos leads the group of friends as the firmly spoken Marcia, whilst Zed Josef engages the audienceas the odiously charming chat show host and leads the narrative to its heartbreaking conclusion. To pick holes, this show is so carefully observant of the reality genre, I almost found myself getting frustrated with its carefully studied inanity. Looking at the overall length of the show, it could perhaps afford to lose one question round to drive the pace forward and sustain energy before the final climax.
Cast: Zed Josef, Jamie Lee Pike, Kristina Epenetos, Carla Harrison Hodge, Lily Levin, Natasha Colenso, Anna Swan
Directed by Anna Swan
What Lucy Was by Tori Allen-Martin
A masterclass in devising theatre from real stories, Allen-Martin’s four hander is inspired by real life events, expanding and imagining the emotions behind the characters from a murder report. With non linear time scales and intercut monologues, What Lucy Was is intelligently structured to give poignancy to the multiple voices of those affected by Lucy’s murder.
Liberty Muckland, as best friend Amy, gives a passionate and noteworthy performance, heightening the energy of the piece with her anger with the way the police handled the case. Lucy herself (played by Amy Christina Murray) is chillingly optimistic and unaware of her sad future, urging the audience to ‘forgive and forget’ like she does in her everyday life. The dramatic irony of her naivety, and the decisions in staging (seating her next to her attacker), brings an added edge to his descriptions of the violence. This is a piece that really gets under your skin; good theatre changes your perspectives and gives you something, however small an idea or thought, that you will carry around with you forever. What Lucy Was not only opens a window onto domestic violence, a crime that can be so silent, but also the multiple responsibilities that we have to make sure people are safe.
Cast: Amy Christina Murray, Liberty Buckland, Stuart Morris, Laura Kaye Thomson
Directed by Tori Allen-Martin
Klepto by Hannah Leigh-Prior
I’m pretty sure that we all hate people who say that women just aren’t as funny as men. If anyone still actually needs convincing of this (I’m thinking of time travellers, people who have been cryogenically frozen, Daily Mail readers etc), then Hannah Leigh-Prior has the antidote. Her work is incredibly comically gifted, and this short is a loud and confident example of her wide range of skills, as writer, director and performer.
Klepto is a love letter to friendships, and the lengths you’ll go to rescue your favourite person so you can drink some more wine with them. Jamie Lee Pike, as Jess, and Hannah, as Liz, have great stage chemistry and their comedic timing is spot on. The script is strongly developed, and hilariously observant in portraying female friendship. Honestly, this piece was so funny, I just stopped writing things down, and sat back to marvel at its genius.
Cast: Jamie Lee Pike, Hannah Leigh-Prior
Directed by Hannah Leigh-Prior
Assistant Director: Runyararo Mapfumo
Love on Top by Willy Hudson
Another piece that feels fully formed and ready for it’s next step is Willy Hudson’s dirty, joyous monologue, exploring his disastrous 3rd date nerves. With great use of the stage to split of distinctive trains of thought and physical locations, this inner monologue gives an insight into a beautiful, poignant and well-developed character. I don’t usually feel so much affection for someone who talks about spitting on their own dick but Hudson’s explicitness is somehow even more endearing. It hits just the right balance between naive vulnerability and funny sex, perfectly pitched between entertaining and heartbreaking. A real head-worm of a piece, Willy Hudson has a powerful voice and, billed as an excerpt from a larger piece, Love on Top is an extremely talented promise of a future hit.
Written and Performed by Willy Hudson