Review – Warning, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 31st March 2023

WarningThis is how Warning is described online: “When is enough, enough? A naturalistic piece following a journey of survival. Showcasing themes of illness, euphoria and death, the audience don’t find out what the threat is until the end. This piece focuses on substance abuse and is rated R, audiences are encouraged to take discretion and prioritise their own well-being.”

Elly and Toby have a loving, if occasionally bickering, relationship. When Elly gets frustrated at Toby’s addiction to watching the news, she searches online for the truth behind some of the news stories – but when she finds out something sensational, her phone dies – and then all her history is lost. This happens again and again. The next time it happens, the phone gets red hot and gives them a shock. Convinced that the government are after them and confined to the one room, their siege mentality steadily grows until one day Toby is no longer to be found. Elly is devastated; and it’s only then that we find out the truth.

This is a curious piece in many ways. As an idea for a story, it’s very inventive and extremely cleverly structured. It has a real twist in its tail and I for one had no idea how it would resolve itself – and it’s a perfect resolution that ties up all the odd threads that emerge over the hour. However, I must say that most of the conversations between the two characters, though well written in themselves and very well performed, felt aimless and unengaging, to the extent that quite a lot of the play was sadly rather boring to watch. It felt very introverted and lacked that magic sense of “drama”. It would probably work much better as, say, a short story.

George Pavey is excellent as the occasionally grumpy Toby, but I thought Jess Eddy was superb as Elly. Word perfect throughout, and bringing loads of emotion to the character, she always delivered her lines with clarity and conviction. Performing a long scene, virtually by herself, whilst lying supine on the sofa, must have been a very difficult task vocally but she absolutely nailed it. Two superb performances – I just wished the play had been more stimulating.

Review – Silenced, Lavender Productions, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 31st March 2023

SilencedThis is how Silenced is described online: “Four friends play a game with a Ouija board that takes a turn for the worse when the spirit they summon fights back.”

Blake OliverWhat happened to Emma? Ava, Noah, Isabelle and Robin decide to hold a séance with a Ouija board to see if they can summon up her presence. Isabelle thinks it’s going to be hilarious, Ava is terrified and wants no part in it, whilst Noah and Robin turn up for the banter and the munchies. At first it’s all light-hearted, with Isabelle probably pushing the planchette that picks out the letters on the board. But then there are noises… Erin Hamiltonand lights flicker… and suddenly it’s not so light-hearted anymore.

There’s no doubt that this is a spooky production, with definite scary moments! All four of the characters become zombified at times, as the spirit of Emma takes over their bodies. Shannon LambertThe changes of facial expression and voice for when each person was affected worked very well, and there was quite a lot of stage violence/combat which was for the most part extremely effective. In particular, Blake Oliver as Noah was an especially scary zombie as he hurled the other characters around the stage with effortless ease. Erin Hamilton was very convincing as the reticent Ava, Will Merryleesand Shannon Lambert was excellent as the bossy Isabelle. Will Merrylees played the oafish Robin as a fine specimen of toxic masculinity.

Given that it’s not a long play, I found it a little repetitive as each character goes through the Emma-cycle, without much being added to our understanding of the situation with each one. I also thought that some of the banter between the two guys was a bit more in-your-face than I expected – even though it was perfectly realistic. Additionally, congratulations to all the cast for carrying on regardless in the face (or rather the sound!) of an unexpected fire alarm; they didn’t flinch an inch. And I really enjoyed the “possessed” curtain call!

Review – The Little Princess, Out of the Box Theatre, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 31st March 2023

The Little PrincessThis is how The Little Princess is described online: “The story begins with a planet. A planet so small you need two telescopes to see. It is the story of an Astronaut, a Princess, and a Sunflower. The story of a world in peril, of problems unsolvable. Of cowardice and cynicism, and of courage and compassion. Of talking and of listening.”

A bedtime story comes to life as four youngsters are told the tale of an Astronaut who lands on a distant planet, where he meets the Little Princess. But she is worried, because the Sunflower, that bestows all the light and heat on the planet is clearly suffering – and she wants to know why and how the Sunflower can be made better again. As they travel around all the poles of the little planet, they meet the Minister, the Chairman and the Scientist; but will the Little Princess and the Astronaut find the solution to the Sunflower’s problems?

Hannes KnischewskiA thoroughly relevant story that highlights ecological issues such as limited resources, blame-shifting politicians, unregulated industry and ignored experts, all told through the rather charming device of a children’s story, presented with endearing naivete and an excellent sense of humour. I really appreciated how the Minister’s response when he was cornered about his hypocrisy and inactivity was to blame the foreigner – where have we heard that before?! The five characters were all very believable, even though they were deliberately presented as over-the-top stereotypes, all of which added to the jollity of the piece.

Alan JagielloConnor Dadge has great stage presence and was excellent as the bullish Minister, eager for photo opportunities, and even more eager to take no responsibility for anything. Hannes Knischewski’s scientist was appropriately mad and gabbling, and reminded me fondly of the days of Magnus Pyke (Google him if you don’t know!) Sophia Foster brought a wide-eyed innocence and simplicity to the role of the Little Princess, Saim Shafique gave a good performance as the Astronaut – I loved his watered down expletives, very funny – and Alan Jagiello was very convincing as the business-fixated manufacturer of everything.

Funny, lively, and very amusingly staged, this was an excellent way of conveying a serious problem through humour. Great work!

Review – The Mayflower, Clock In Theatre, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 31st March 2023

The MayflowerThis is how The Mayflower is described online: “Our story follows the lives of two young people during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Set in The Mayflower, a local karaoke pub, we follow our two protagonists though the highs and lows of adapting to adult life and the ever growing pressure of a looming epidemic.”

Kira GarnerMaggie has lost her parents, and all she has now in the world is the family pub, The Mayflower, which she continues to run as an LGBT venue. One day a first year student, Adam, plucks up the courage to go in but he’s really uncomfortable. Maggie convinces him this is a safe space, and over the months he grows in confidence and self-awareness, and the two have a great friendship. But Maggie is concerned about the stories of this unexplained virus that’s been affecting people in America; she specifically wants Adam to stay safe. But Adam thinks it’s all a load of nonsense. The pub is losing money, and Adam is drifting apart from Maggie because of her constant worrying. Will there be a happy future for all three of them?

Charlie FranklinA strong story, superbly told, with two likeable actors playing two highly credible characters. Kira Garner is excellent as Maggie, capturing all her “mother hen” aspects, and the slow rising fear that AIDS might come to Britain. Charlie Franklin plays Adam with a wonderful feel for both the humour and the pathos of the character. They work together extremely well, with word-perfect heated exchanges, and some nicely re-enacted shared karaoke moments. I really appreciated that the choice of music was fully in keeping with the implied era of the show – nothing later than 1985!

It’s a witty, sensitive and emotional piece of writing that completely holds the audience’s attention. You smile and laugh with the characters, but are also fearful for their future. The highly emotional ending was extremely well portrayed. Definitely one of the best Flash Fringe shows this year!

Review – Bound by History, The Yesteryear Assembly, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 30th March 2023

Bound by HistoryThis is how Bound by History is described online: “After several years apart, a group of friends reunite and travel to Bulgaria to complete their Professor’s historical research when his health suddenly declines.”

Meg MayersOld friendships and rivalries are renewed as four ex-students of archaeology, devoted to their Professor, who is now in a dementia home, agree to travel back to Bulgaria to find a hidden artefact in a dig before homes are built over the site. But there’s no guarantee that the artefact is there. If they find it, their names will go down in archaeological history. If they don’t, a lot of time, energy and money will have been wasted. Ellis ReynoldsThe four were obviously thick as thieves back in the day, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Can they keep their rivalry and personal issues at bay long enough to find the treasure?

This is an extremely well imagined story, in that it takes the fairly standard situation of a reunion of old friends and workmates to see if they still get on, but transports them into the highly original setting of an archaeological dig in Bulgaria. With jobs, businesses, and parental responsibilities to contend with, Katie Blundellit’s unsurprising that they get tetchy at times and have to juggle their lives, sometimes at the expense of the others. But it’s a good examination of a group of people working together at close quarters in a controlled environment. Luis DiasSadly, though, the play did feel a little long, and I thought that many of the conversations lacked depth and drama.

That said, from the acting perspective, I thought this was the best intertwined ensemble performance of all the Flash Fringe shows I’ve seen so far. The four actors – Meg Mayers, Ellis Reynolds, Luis Dias and Katie Blundell – dovetail together beautifully and perform with great trust and understanding of the others. In particular, I thought Mr Dias and Ms Blundell gave first class performances, with superb clarity of diction, stage presence and perfectly placed confidence. That stage punch that Mr Dias dealt out to Mr Reynolds was a stunner!

Review – You Me and Her, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 30th March 2023

You Me and HerThis is how You Me and Her is described online: “Obsession, envy and desire… These all have one common denominator – love. What lengths would you go to for that one person?”

Ruby WatkinsonMeet April. She seems very nice – if a trifle infatuated with the guy she keeps meeting in the coffee shop. She feels certain that they’re destined to be together. Why, they even order the same type of coffee! Now meet Imogen. She’s also very nice. She’s been with her man for the last three years and they are devoted to each other; she thinks. Although he’s not certain he wants to move to Burgundy, and she doesn’t care for Rom-Coms. April loves Rom-Coms though, and she’s quite prepared to be a temptress to get her way. And who knows what Imogen is capable of to prevent her?

Caitlin SuchVery well written and constructed, this nicely sets up an atmosphere of suspicion and infidelity, but also conceals from the audience certain elements of the story so that we too are left dangling. Did he and April sleep together? Did Imogen end up committing an unimaginable crime? In the end I was both impressed and infuriated that one final scene that would have tied up all the loose ends deliberately didn’t appear!

Brandon MayfieldThe production boasts three good performances from its main characters; Ruby Watkinson plays April with quiet determination and demure aloofness, Caitlin Such is excellent as the spoiled and suspicious Imogen who lets things get out of hand, and Brandon Mayfield is also excellent as the object of their desires, giving in to temptation just a little bit, knowing right from wrong – but only when it suits him. No programme means I can’t remember the name of Mr Mayfield’s character – but there’s only one lead male role. The cast of three were nicely supported by second year students Richard and Kitty in a variety of roles – I look forward to seeing them do more next year.

If I have a criticism of the performance it would be that for such high emotional tension between the characters it might have been appropriate for their to be more physical contact between them; for a life and death situation, Imogen and her man barely touch, which gave the production a slightly more mental than physical feel. But that didn’t prevent the power of the story coming through, and it’s a gripping story concisely and clearly told. Great work!

Review – Parable, Joshua Rowlett, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 29th March 2023

ParableThis is how Parable is described online: “James is an average student at University number 1179. However, his world is turned upside down by a series of unexpected and increasingly outlandish events.”

Those unexpected and increasingly outlandish events stem from James waking up one morning and hearing voices. Primarily it’s the voice of his conscience – but for the purposes of Parable, it’s also the Narrator. Or Steve, for short. An unwelcome intrusion at first, James eventually starts to follow the Narrator’s bidding, including starting a friendship with a sword on his table.

Joshua RowlettJoshua Rowlett has constructed an extremely surreal one-man, but multi-voiced, play, with an internal monologue that gets more and more out of hand with the ridiculous events that the narrator and the sword create for him. Although relatively short, it’s a very ambitious piece that relies on split second timing as Mr Rowlett’s words and actions have to dovetail into the pre-recorded soundtrack that provides the other voices we hear. And on the whole it worked pretty well, with just one or two occasions where the timing didn’t quite work – but the nature of the play means we move on rapidly and any errors are quickly forgotten.

It’s very funny and provides several laugh out loud moments for the audience. Does it contribute to our understanding of the human condition and the future of society? Probably not. But it does offer twenty minutes of entertainment and comedy surprises!

Review – Blue Baby Blue, Shark Theatre Company, Flash Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA Acting Students, Northampton Playhouse, 29th March 2023

Blue Baby BlueThis is how Blue Baby Blue is described online: “In their cosy one-bed flat in Essex, Lewis and Anna find their world turned upside down when they unexpectedly become a little family. Follow them as they embark on this new journey that’s full of ups and downs and the harsh reality of young parenthood.”

Vicky DunbobbinIndeed, Lewis and Anna cannot believe their luck – which includes whether it’s good luck or bad luck – when Anna gets a positive result on her pregnancy test. They’re both very young and just starting out in their careers. Lewis instantly has cold feet and suggests an abortion; Anna, on the other hand, feels adoption would be better. But as neither solution suits the other partner, they have the baby and settle down to being a household of three. But when the all-night crying sessions start, and Anna finds she cannot cope, the baby blues set in – full-scale post-natal depression which debilitates their relationship and endangers the baby. Is there any way out for the three of them?

Archy MackillopSensitively written, but never scared of addressing the true issues, this is a moving and frequently upsetting play that examines the effects of post-natal depression on both parents, and the potential harm that the baby risks. Vicky Dunbobbin and Archy Mackillop turn in two excellent performances as the unwilling young parents, beautifully interweaving their words and actions with each other, from the early, heart-warmingly funny days in the past to the bitter, angry present.

Precisely acted, and with a mature understanding of the condition beyond their years, it’s a powerful and convincing two-hander that keeps you thinking long after curtain down. Its bleak and uncomfortable ending shows that there is no easy solution to this common problem. Ms Dunbobbin and Mr Mackillop make a great team and have an excellent chemistry on stage, and can clearly turn their hands to top quality writing too. Great work!