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Smock Allies – Scene and Heard at Smock Alley Theatre – Review

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Smock Allies – Scene and Heard at Smock Alley Theatre – Review by P McGovern

Reviews of Mursery, Chromatics, Meet Me Half Way and Night Shift – on Sunday 19-02-17

Block 15 – Mursery & Chromatics

Block 16 – Meet Me Half Way & Night Shift

Festival continues until March 4th.

Mursery by Gill Lambert contrasts the naïve jollity of nursery rhymes with the grim reality of the everyday situations they depict. It starts promisingly, projecting a quirky, engaging animated film version of the Jack-and-Jill nursery rhyme on a screen, accompanied by a few repeated, simplified, keyboard chords. However, the problems start with the “repeated” bit. The clanking notes continue throughout the performance of a severely disabled Jack in a wheelchair being pushed by Jill. The actors are at times drowned out by the distracting music. Andy Gallagher is fully convincing as a disabled young man, no mean achievement given some of the falling and dragging involved, and this is by a distance the strongest of the three sketches. Cormac Ó Cinneide’s animated ironic take on the three rhymes is excellent.

The second performance, Itsy-bitsy- Spider, is similarly hampered by having to contend with the intrusive music – a problem aggravated by the actor’s face being tilted down to read a script, a double barrier to the audience engaging with the action.  The final piece, based on Rock-a-bye-Baby, counterpointed the sweetness of that nursery rhyme with the darker realities that can go with pregnancy and childbearing.

The language of all three sketches is stilted and forced-poetic, so that it gets in the way of true communication of feeling.  The writer/director’s note tells us that ‘theatre that causes you to think is theatre well crafted’. Well, yes, but theatre that can’t be heard, expressed in language that tries too hard, can come across as merely self-indulgent.

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Shauna Carrick’s Chromatics (Polliwog Theatre Collective) is as fine an example of youth theatre as you will find. The title reflects the multicoloured moods, emotions and experiences of a group of young people as they graduate from college, full of anticipation and apprehension in equal measure as they head out into post-student reality.  Their stories are told almost entirely through song, with the briefest of linking narrative.  The large cast is accompanied by an excellent on-stage keyboard player. The piece is a pleasure from beginning to end, voices blending in twos, threes and larger ensembles.  The music nods toward Stephen Sondheim, it wears its influence lightly and feels fresh and original. Direction is superb. Groupings and movement flow effortlessly, always to a purpose and enhanced by excellent lighting.  It will be surprising if the writer/director and some of her cast don’t figure prominently in future theatrical productions.

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The Pin Ensemble presents Meet Me Halfway by Daniel McDermott. It is an interesting piece centring on two young men, good friends, and the girl with whom they are both involved. It is a tangled emotional web, made all the more intriguing by the fact that one of them is, well… dead. And he may well be the father of the unborn baby of the woman to whom the other man is married. The acting is honest, reinforced by a talented actor-singer-guitarist (individual actors are not identified) who introduces the piece.

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Night Shift by Naomi Elster never quite gets off the ground. Kate arrives to cover the late-night shift of an absent colleague in their café and phones her husband to come in and sort out a personal problem.  His, which becomes theirs…  His recent sexual outlet is confined to, shall we say, solo runs rather than team play.  The possibility of a quiet chat disappears as two other couples arrive – an older couple with a problematic car and an even more problematic daughter and a brother-and-sister duo with much greater problems involving a possible murder.  The possibility for good situation comedy is present but the dialogue is clunky and the characters are ill-defined. The direction is loose and lacks focus. Characters walk offstage and return – to no purpose. Couples carry their stools and tables onstage.  Among the actors (not identified), the sister character is the most convincing while the husband certainly has more presence on stage than in the bedroom.

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