28 February 2006

The Miniaturists

Emily tries but misunderstands,
She's often inclined to borrow somebody's dreams till tomorrow

It'll be a long time before the image fades - Carl the ageing hippy dancing to the Floyd in a '68 stylee, having just kicked out his old friend who's hiding from criminal accomplices. A highlight from Sebastian Baczkiewicz's miniature The Troubadour, seen on Sunday night at Southwark.
The whole day is a bit of a blur for me. I opened up the Playhouse at 9ish and locked it fourteen hours later, and I hardly had a moment to stop and reflect and chew things over. But five companies showed up on time, did their tech with Suzanne and Richard (my heroes), did line runs all over the building and in nearby hostelries, and put in two performances (5.30pm and 8) of their miniatures that sent the sell-out crowd away well pleased (at least I think so) with their evening's diversion.
SB's play just about nails the short form - it has a fine arc to it, some very funny lines and something very dark at its heart. Carl the hippy was played by Rod Smith, incidentally, and it was a pleasure working with him, as it was with Dominic Colenso and Tim Morand, and they were the three of them creatively directed by Ellen Hughes.
In Screams From Job by Tassos Stevens there's a Tarkovskyesque (if you'll excuse me) moment when the attention of both audience and protagonists is brought to bear on one of the biggest questions - why does God hate us? I well remember the special pleading from theists, believers, religious types, whatever you want to call them, when confronted with the titanic misery caused by the Asian tsunami, an event mentioned by Tassos in his miniature as he explored the problem of suffering. It was his first scripted play and it was moving and elegant and at times opaque, but that was a quality suited to the subject - the impenetrable problem of God.
Rebecca Nesvet's play Piecemakers was a lovely little shocker set in Newgate Prison circa 1800, featuring Sweeney Todd's mistress and a pair of counterfeiting good for nothings. My keenest memory of it is Sharon Kirk's winking - her character has no lines but dominates the piece, and there was terrific eyebrow and winking work from her. Tabatha Williams and Victoria Denard were ace also, and Lucy Skilbeck's directing showed off the piece's oddity and intensity to best effect. There was a moment when Tabs reared up, threateningly and elegantly at the same time, and it reminded me of being hissed at by a swan on the river one time.
Rachael McGill - like Tassos, a friend of longstanding - pulled out of the hat at the relatively last minute a typically wry, inventive and funny thing called Gale Force Clothes Pegs. It was beautifully directed by Joe Austin, and featured Nicola Gossip as The Computer who shadows Jo Myddleton's Beth, whispering in her bluetooth about climate change and offers of casual sex. Beth is in a tortuous relationship with Tom (Andrew Mayer), in the future, and in the final scene we realise with a wrench that the Tom with whom she's going over the same old tired ground is a virtual one, put together from her memories.
The first person in the short history of miniaturism to be in two plays on the one night was Ronan Paterson, seen as the guard in Newgate Prison but also taking the lead in Steve Hawes's play A Thrashing, as a public school teacher called Mr.Toynbee.
Mr.T is tutoring the son of a supergrass gone into witness protection (Jack Ashton), and the son of a deposed African dictator (Andy Egwuatu). The topic under discussion is Orwell's attitudes to empire. It's done very wittily and with verve, a la History Boys. The twist comes with the arrival of Matron (Rebecca Deren) - turns out that Son of Supergrass is owed a beating and if it's not administered he'll lose his scholarship. Mr.Toynbee chickens out - and the black boy steps in and beats the white, in a nicely ironic comment on Orwell. Gordon Murray's direction keeps the play fresh and lively, the classroom banter zips along, and the denouement is a real jolt.

So there they were and there we are. Thanks again to all the artists, and I'm already looking forward to the next 'un. If you didn't come and you weren't at the Oliviers, well, you'd better have a note from the doctors or something. Though if you live on the other side of the world I might let you off.

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