Each year, London theatre company StoneCrabs selects 9 talented young directors for a six month professional development programme. They receive mentoring and training from industry professionals in production, project management and theatre directing. Stomping Ground is their graduation ceremony, for which each participant gets to direct an hour long piece of theatre of their choosing, with professional actors. You can support StoneCrabs in this worthy cause via their kickstarter.
The Shawl by David Mamet, Directed by Francine Morgan
Mamet’s short four act play relies strongly on the ability of the director to balance the fraud pyschic’s bald-faced probing with his victim’s naivety and belief in him and his ‘powers’. Morgan skillfully draws tension between the three opposing characters, all locked in a moral battle of exploitation, and neatly refers the audience to the self delusions we all carry, through John’s (Alec Gray) steady decline into self-doubt and hatred.
Initially the production ran quite one-note, but Nicola Peluso brought some volume in the last act to lift the pace of the narrative. Morgan allows Mamet’s words to give the audience what they want – to see behind a psychic fake’s tricks, and to find the rational logic in supernatural phenomena. Some loosening up of the language could be beneficial in any future performances, as at times it felt like the cast were spelling out each stutter and half finished word, and a more relaxed approach with the script could lend the piece more realism.
Cast: Alec Gray, Nicola Peluso, Sean James
Counting Stars by Atiha Sen Gupta, Directed by Emily Marshall
Following two simultaneous and interweaving storylines from lovers Sophie and Abiodun, Counting Stars is a powerfully tragic comedy about working in a club toilet in Woolwich. Director Emily Marshall’s stage and movement direction is intelligent, drawing a character forward to focus the audience during moments of intensity, whilst keeping the unspeaking cast member active and engaged without pulling attention with some great non-verbal ‘business’.
With excellent comic timing and ability to switch through multiple characters (and accents) flawlessly, cast members Rebecca Omogbehin and Joseph Rowe are definitely ones-to-watch. Marshall has clearly worked well with her cast, and the production reaps the benefits as a result. I felt like I could have watched this at the Soho Theatre, it was so well pulled together. Everything had been considered and chosen, from sound to stage design, from movement to direction, to create a perfect storm of emotional realism.
Cast:Rebecca Omogbehin, Joseph Rowe
The End of All Miracles by Paulo Santoro, Directed by Fernanda Mandagará
Starting off in very high spirits, with an audience-participation conga line, The End of all Miracles transforms into a much heavier, darker examination of getting the most out of life, and reliving old memories at the end of your life. Director Fernanda Mandagará marshalls cast members Bridget Wood and Peter McVea through their meandering, tangential conversation, whilst Alexandra Dias provides non-verbal support as, alternately, a nurse and a prostitute.
Despite experiencing some lighting cue difficulties and a bit of a problem with lines, Mandagará clearly has some very creative ideas, with bold staging decisions, inventive sound and light effects, and a full dance number keeping the audience engaged. Occasionally needing a little more animation or change of tempo, the production could benefit from cutting back a little on extras and focusing on transmitting the core message of the piece.
Cast: Alexandra Dias, Bridget Wood, Peter McVea
Captain Amazing by Alistair McDowall, Directed by Luke Howarth
Howarth’s one man show is a tour de force, following a father’s retreat into fantasy after his life doesn’t turn out the way he wanted. Directing in the round is incredibly demanding on the director’s ability to be inventive and make full use of the space, and Howarth excels , even throwing in some puppetry directing for good measure. Adam Trussell as Captain Amazing throws himself around the stage with endless energy, using a sparse set of cardboard boxes and a takeaway coffee cup to race through scenes with multiple characters, all played with a twitch of his body and subtle inflection of voice.
Jessica Warshaw puppeteers Captain Amazing’s young daughter Emily with pleasing simplicity, matching Trussell’s voice well. Whilst the initial introduction to the puppet (a tugging of a bunch of balloons out of a box) was delightfully comic and accomplished the setting of physical boundaries, it felt quite stand-alone. It would have benefited from connecting to the rest of the story. Trussell’s physical placement of different characters in the same scene became muddled at times, but overall Howarth took on a challenging script and created a mesmerizing, high-octane piece of theatre.
Cast: Adam Trussell, Jessica Warshaw
After Liverpool by James Saunders, Directed by Sam Luffman
After Liverpool is incredibly dialogue rich, exploring in minutia the multitude of small things that can irritate, and even end, a relationship. Luffman has staged this piece well, with two microphones and two chairs each taking an opposite corner of the 4-point stage in the round. Focusing the piece into the corners can occasionally lead to actors playing the ‘plate balancing game’, whereby they follow each other across diametrically opposed corners, making movements predictable or staid. There were points at which the audience would have welcomed more variety of movement, but the on-stage chemistry of Hollie Hales and Stephen Papaioannou kept our focus on course.
Hales is particularly noteworthy for her expressive performance, and both cast members dealt well with being undressed for significant periods of the show. The piece gave the strong impression that Luffman had created a safe environment with which to explore the more challenging parts of the narrative.
Cast: Hollie Hales, Stephen Papaioannou
The Open Couple by Dario Fo, Directed by Alex Prescot
Dario Fo’s piece doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it uses the audience to mediate a couple’s marital struggles, and in select cases to participate in the action itself. Acknowledging the stage, set and their own characterisation, Rebecca Crankshaw and Pete Picton were a well matched team for this dark comedy. Director Alex Prescot has a pleasingly imaginative approach to props, with a hairdryer used alternately as a gun, wind from an open window and finally an actual hairdryer.
Unfortunately, it didn’t feel like the round stage was used to its full potential – knowingly or not, the cast members chased themselves anti-clockwise for a significant portion of the show, and it would have been effective to switch this up at poignant moments, perhaps to mirror the shifting power dynamics in the couple. Crankshaw feels like a very safe pair of hands, she maintained pace and clarity, driving the show forward to its climactic conclusion. Picton made a potentially unlikeable character endearing, managing to bring the audience onto his side with bumbling charm. The Open Couple can be unforgiving on its director, as it constantly switches up the characters’ relationships with the audience, but Prescot clearly had a strong handle on how to make the production succeed.
Cast: Rebecca Crankshaw, Pete Picton