THE COLLECTIVE PROJECT, Etcetera Theatre - Review

The Pensive Federation throughout the year has a number of week-long events where over 12 days, two directors and a number of actors and writers develop several short plays. Their latest effort, the Collective Project, recently took place at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, London.

Each play in the Collective Project had a collective noun as its title and as a new addition, the Pensive team also added genres: Heist, Soap, Period, Medical, Political, Sitcom, Sci-Fi and Silent.

The first play Convoy looked at group of actors recording a less-than-successful sitcom about aid workers in Africa. The focus on behind the scenes with the in-house backbiting gave the piece the satirical air of Drop The Dead Donkey.

Channelling the spirit of Chekhov, the second play Reflection captured the melancholy and pathos of Three Sisters. Sitting for a potrait, the female members of a distinguished family discuss in a postwar world what's to become of them and their inner circle. For such a small play, Reflection maintained atmosphere and gravitas.

Continuing the theme of literary influences, the third play Colony owes its raison d'être to Our Country's Good – the use of theatre/culture to reach those who have nothing else in their lives. The ill-treatment of teachers is highlighted, who have to act as both custodians of learning and discipline, and often caught in the middle.

Anyone who is vaguely aware of the soap opera Coronation Street, will have found the fourth play Diligence highly amusing, A gathering of friends for a live episode of the soap goes from bad to worse as one misunderstanding leads to some home truths spoken. A very funny play that extols the virtues of real relationships (as messy as they are) versus a life spent solely watching television.

The second half of the Collective Project began with the silent movie-inspired Whisper. Set in a library, various characters make use of the space – some to read, the rest to do anything but. While all the mini-stories were interesting, the one that captured the essence of the enterprise was the courtship of Kim Burnett and Anthony Cozens' characters, with the contents of their scribbled notes projected on the walll upstage.

For my money, the sixth play Helix was the most rooted in reality, and as such, was the most powerful. Set in a hospital, the play focuses on an A&E department that's inspected by Hannah McClean's character. Things are further complicated by the fact that she's married to Jared Rogers' character who recently acted neglegently, but blamed others for his mistake. Anyone who works in healthcare or indeed anywhere where bureaucracy and a 'tick box' culture tries to assert itself on everyday decisions will totally relate to this play.

Staying to some degree within the world of work, Pallor looked at a security film that's had a number of clients not renewing their services. While Jeremy Donovon is entertaining as the over-friendly CEO, it's Antonia Bourdillon as his COO who steals the limelight as the only member of the board to truly grasp the situaton they're facing.

Forest, the final play of the Collective Project, focused on Stanley (Jared Rogers) who introduced his new girlfriend to his friends. The catch? Stan's actually a robot! At present TV programmes such as Channel 4's Humans have caught up with mainstream cinema in determining our ambivalent relationship with technology and our fears of being replaced with A.I. This underlying tension resides in the play, beneath the humour. While initially very funny, the revelations in the play give this satire some serious clout, especially in light of events in France over the weekend.

As per usual, the Pensive Federation have produced a consistently high standard to their body of work in a short period of time and I look forward to their next new writing night.

© Michael Davis 2015

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