Mixed bag at Pulse festival

Taken Leave by Lisa Turner Smith, Thursday, June 3, SJM

THIS was a rehearsed reading of a play that had been developed out of Springboard, a New Wolsey theatre writing initiative from last year.

Out of 16 ten minute pieces, two writers were chosen to have their idea developed further and the result is this play and Fra/g/MenT/ing by Jenny Barnett, which is being aired over three nights in the second week of Pulse.

Rehearsed readings can be a little static and forced, but Rob Salmon as director had worked hard to get a performance out of the actors that brought all the characters to life.

The original story focused on the terror of being a new mother, unprepared for the feelings of helplessness and inadequacy that can go with it - especially if you have held down a successful career beforehand.

This extended version added a parallel plot looking at the similar feelings experienced by a man newly retired, in this case Rachel’s own father, and in turn the helplessness and frustrations of the respective partners who are trying to help with the transition.

The thing I had liked about the original script was the claustrophobia of motherhood – suddenly being trapped with this small bundle of needs – and not knowing where to turn.

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Adding in the subplot diluted this scenario but did increase the humour of the piece and gave an added dimension in which to explore the characters.

The dialogue was very believable and although some of the scenes were a little contrived, the plot flowed and empathy was created for all the characters, even the less explored ones of the partners.

This was a piece that had lots of potential and although I think it may be hard to stage as a full length piece, I could see it as a radio play and think the writer should consider going down that route.

Tu I Teraz – by Nicola Werenowska, Saturday, June 5, SJM

THIS was again a rehearsed reading, but unlike Taken Leave the director had done nothing to help the cast find a way of expressing the characters within this extremely turgid script.

Nicola is an artist supported by Escalator and the Mercury Theatre so I was expecting something innovative and exciting.

It was billed as a Polish woman’s attempt to build a better life for herself and her son in the UK.

There were four characters and some pointless flashbacks. We had conversations between the son and his mother, the son and his aunt, the aunt and her sister, the mother and her lover - who was actually her ex-husband - and so on and so on.

Sometimes it was in polish, sometimes broken English, sometimes well-spoken English for no understandable reason. But did we learn anything about the difficulties of life for Poles in the UK? Did we learn anything interesting about these four characters? Did we care about any of the characters?

The answer is a resounding no. There was no dramatic tension, no plot twists, no highs and lows. I came away really concerned this writer had no idea what she was trying to say with this play and that without plot or purpose it would be best to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.

Almost 10 - by Raphaele Moussafir, Saturday, June 5, SJM

PRESENTED by Tangram Theatre Company and directed by Daniel Goldman, this was a one-woman monologue that won a Must See nomination from The Stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - and it was easy to see why.

Caroline Horton is an amazing actress with such a range of facial expressions and body language she can almost convey a whole scene without words.

Set in the Nineties, this was life through the eyes of a nine-year-old misfit who hates her family and her school and has just one friend, Hortense, with whom she gets up to all sorts of mischief.

In the course of the play we experience her joys of making nuisance calls, her failures inviting people to her birthday party, her frustration with her parents’ holiday cottage in Wales, her difficulties in reconciling her Jewishness with her Britishness, her dysfunctional school life and the tragedies that can only befall you when you are nine.

Some of the language was a bit unnecessary and there were a couple of references that made me feel a little uncomfortable, but on the whole this was a superb piece of writing and an acting tour de force.