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Not enough conflict to maintain the interest



Review by Hannah Knowles

SINCE their foundation, six years ago, Hydrae Productions have had the laudable principle of showcasing short plays by up-and-coming writers, in co-operation with the Script2Stage group.

Their latest production, Conflicts Of Interest, at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, is a collection of six plays which, as the title suggests, are united by their presentation of people failing to see eye to eye.

Crucially, however, what the plays are missing is just that: any sense of conflict. The performances lack enough conviction to persuade the audience that the characters’ conversations matter enough for what we are witnessing to be anything other than petty quibbling born of ennui, rather than any genuine conflicts of interest.

The production opens with Under A Grapefruit Sky, in which Bill, a helpline worker, receives a call from his brother ,Tony, who has undergone a sex change to become his sister, Tina.

Predictably, the man trained to resist passing judgement on his callers refuses to accept his transsexual brother, even advising him/her to go ahead with the overdose that Tina has told Bill she plans to take.

Stevie Harris plays Tony/Tina with intelligence and restraint, never falling into the clichés of playing a drunken character, and despite the script’s potential to tip into melodrama, handles the role with sensitivity.

Brian Naylor is less successful as Bill, exercising too much restraint for a character who is supposed to be angered and dismayed by his brother’s transformation.

The part doesn’t require histrionics, but Bill’s tone is too disinterested for his harsh words to be believable.

At times, the play makes some interesting comments on the human proclivity to judge, and the hypocrisy of those who claim to do otherwise, but incessant weak jokes and some awkward, self-conscious acting reduce the impact of these moments.

Similar problems dog Tat, which amounts to little more than a poor man’s Withnail and I. It shares the latter’s odd-couple set-up, but lacks the wit and pathos that made Withnail so painfully brilliant to watch.

The two down-and-outs make frequent allusions to famous pairings - Holmes & Watson, Batman & Robin etc. - but these only serve to emphasise the striking lack of chemistry between the two men; chemistry that made the partnerships they refer to so enduring.

This is possibly a consequence of opening night nerves, as, individually, both actors seem perfectly capable, if a little shaky with their lines.

The third short, Anyway, proves much more satisfactory. The premise is a discussion between three women about the intimate details of their private lives.

The three actresses turn in lively performances, handling the humour with confidence and responding to each other with a natural rapport that is distinctly lacking in the acting throughout the rest of this production.

With a mixture of amusement and embarrassment, one of the women describes how a man she had sex with began to recite tongue twisters during intercourse.

Baffled, but not to be outdone, she joins in with increasingly complex responses, until they are caught in a mid-coitus competition of verbal dexterity, which lands the guy in hospital, bringing a whole new meaning to the old cunning linguists gag.

Given that this is, by far, the strongest of the plays, it is a mystery why it is also by far the shortest. The actresses are barely given the chance to get into their stride before the play is brought to an abrupt halt. Both they and the audience deserve more.

Instead, we have to wait for The Last Supper to be given something substantial to sink our teeth into.

A tale of deception and intrigue, The Last Supper is set in the inner circle of a tyrannical regime, with a femme-fatale and her lover seeking to overthrow the despotic leader of their land by cooking him the eponymous final meal doused in an unhealthy helping of poison.

The tension steadily escalates through the jumpiness of Hannah Kelly’s seductress, Sonia, and the game playing between her and Zyg Staniaszek, as the charismatic leader she plots to destroy.

As they circle each other, both physically and verbally, the audience is left guessing which character is one step ahead.

However, just as the conversation becomes potentially as lethal as a game of Russian roulette, the plot is pushed too swiftly into a hasty denouement. One twist too many results in a flat conclusion, utterly lacking the dramatic power of the rest of the play.

Most of the production’s flaws can be attributed to scripts that do not quite cut it as short plays, and come off more like teasers for full-length productions.

They simply don’t carry enough weight to be credible as serious drama, nor are they witty enough to pass as comedy; instead, they occupy an unhappy no-man’s land, somewhere between the two.

Ultimately, the only serious conflict of interest I experienced watching this production was whether to see it through to its conclusion ,or go home to my bed. Sadly, even that wasn’t much of a contest.

Cast: Stevie Harris, Brian Naylor, Beth Scott Hewlett, Zai Swan, Phil Gerrard, Nick Wharf, Rhona Danil, Laura Kearsey, Sarah Peach, Peter Dombi/ Peter vanDoorn, Hannah Kelly, Zyg Staniaszek, David Lenson, Tom McCall, Rebecca Peyton.
Directors: Eric Young, Zyg Staniaszek, Steve Tyrrell, Elgiva Field, Dan Coleman.
Writers: Eddie Coleman, Gerald Kells, Lorraine McCann, Michael Stirling, Joanne Hildon, Gerald Kells.

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