I now know why they call it the Flash Festival – because, quick as a flash, it comes around again! This will be the fourth year that I have the privilege to see the 3rd Year Acting Students at Northampton University perform their dissertation pieces, and I am looking forward to it very much! Like last year, there are twelve shows on offer for 2019, and the plan is that Mr Smallmind and I will get to see all of them. Whether I get them all reviewed during the week of the festival is a matter of extreme doubt!
The first show was Confiding in Frank, performed by Pop Theatre, in that comfortable big acting space upstairs at Castle Hill. In a tentative love story with a difference, Star Wars and DC comic nerd Gary and wannabe fashionista Chloe find themselves flat-sharing. After a bumpy start Chloe starts to warm to him and Gary realises that he’s finally within touching distance of a girl! But how to win her over, that’s the question. Enter Frank, the third “person” in the flat-share – and does his wise-cracking advice help or hinder? You’ll have to see it to find out!
Written by and starring Charlie Mackenzie and Melissa Knott, this is a very funny, quirky and surreal little play that treads a fine line between the recognisably real and the utterly preposterous. Mr Mackenzie’s Gary is a child in an adult’s body, and he amusingly conveys his wacky virgin insecurities and his inability to do the right thing at the right time – for example, settling down for a cosy night for two on the sofa shouldn’t be marred by ecstatic couch-conducting the Star Wars Theme. I wondered at one stage whether Mr Mackenzie’s characterisation of Gary was a tad on the frenetic side and maybe not quite realistic enough; but then I remembered he was talking to a fish, so realism flies out the window anyway.
Melissa Knott plays Chloe as a frazzled, easily weirded-out, world-weary kind of girl, who’s looking for kindness and understanding – but instead gets a Games Workshop Luke Skywalker. She’s at her happiest when contemplating her career development, rather than coping with an over-exuberant IT oaf who knows nothing of the etiquette of romance. Both performances lean slightly more towards caricature than characterisation, but that’s not inappropriate for the subject matter. Backstage Elliot Murray provides the voice of the streetwise and sarcastic Frank, who has most of the best lines, including the most suggestive activity deriving from a Box of Heroes sweets that I’ve ever heard. Frank is perhaps a distant cousin of Little Shop of Horrors‘ Audrey II, and gives us lots of laugh out loud moments.
Technically there were a couple of minor hitches – Mr Mackenzie’s light sabre fell apart and thwacked Mr Smallmind on the knee (he won’t sue) and in Gary’s relentless enthusiasm for physical recklessness, Mr Mackenzie knocked over a tub of fish food which stayed there, ominously, throughout the performance. However, the cast remained completely unfazed by these issues, so top marks to them.
Spoiler alert, but it’s not a happy ever after ending for our two lovebirds; and I found myself surprisingly moved and disappointed by that. After all the effort he makes, you would have thought Gary could have had some reward on Valentine’s night!
An enjoyably bizarre 45 minutes – congratulations to all involved!