FIRST 2016 – Scratch Night, Tristan Bates Theatre - Review

As part of its FIRST 2016 – Scratch Nights season, Tristan Bates Theatre has been hosting short plays, works-in-progress and experiments for up-and-coming performers. On the night I visited (Monday 4th April), there were four acts, three of whom were women and all very different from each other.

The use of another persona when performing comedy or cabaret is as old as time immemorial. Asides from eliciting laughs, the persona is often used for a desired effect such as satirising a public figure or indirectly broach a subject, without it sounding didactic. This was certainly the case with the first act of FIRST 2016 – Scratch Night.

Lola In London, the first 'show' of the evening, was performed by Marta Pequeño. Dressed in traditional Spanish flamenco attire, Pequeño addressed the audience – forthright and without fear. Playing a stereotypical Spanish woman, 'Lola' talked about tapas, bullfighting and being passionate with her matador boyfriend. As they're both spirited people led by their emotions, subtlety had no place there. Lola found that her partner was cheating on her and of course arguments ensued. However the tone of the piece shifted imperceptibly, as we later found out that the boyfriend used more than use words to get his point across.... While not the longest of sets, Lola In London crammed a lot in its duration, exploring big themes while paradoxically employing subtlety. It's no surprise that it was originally a 2015 LOST Theatre 5 Minute Festival Finalist and was a great way to open the evening.

While also broaching a sensitive subject, Imogen Butler-Cole's Foreign Body made for extremely uncomfortable viewing (for all the right reasons). Dancing around while not physically speaking, Butler-Cole was accompanied by a recording of her own voice, as she recalled an incident when someone she knew took advantage of her while she was 'under the influence'. While sex itself didn't take place, she was aware in her inebriated state that the person was manually 'probing' her with his fingers... After the 'dance' segment ended, Butler-Cole talked directly to the audience, confirming that it was all true and that she had confronted the 'violator' who confessed. The issue of forgiveness came up, which Butler-Cole was able to do so with this person, but she also admitted that she was sexually assaulted on two other occasions, perpetrated by strangers.

Personally I couldn't believe how calm and collected Butler-Cole was after the revelations, but it was evident that using performance art as a form of catharsis to acknowledge and share her feelings has really helped her. She also plans to incorporate her more harrowing experiences in a future version of Foreign Body.

The second half of the evening was decidedly more upbeat and Charlotte Gallagher's Carlotta De Galleon: A Fool For Love was just the tonic. Taking on the persona of a romance novelist, 'Gallagher's De Galleon' deconstructed Mills & Boon books, the euphemisms to be found in such 'literature' and how they have evolved over the years. The act concluded with 'De Galleon' performing a 'found poetry' piece – a montage of many 'bad sex' segments in romance novels. Gallagher's act was very funny and in its own way an eye-opener – especially in this post-Fifty Shades Of Grey world.

Nick Hall, the final act of the evening, performed his show Szcgrabble. Set during the Cold War, Hall played a motley crew of characters – all very topical now the likes of John le Carré is back in fashion with The Night Manager. I was impressed with the concentration and intensity of Hall's set as his was easily the longest of the evening.

In terms of variety for FIRST 2016 – Scratch Nights, you couldn't ask for a more diverse selection of works-in-progress, each very different from each other and a lot of what's out there in fringe theatre. A very interesting event that I'm unlikely to forget in a hurry.

© Michael Davis 2016

FIRST 2016 – Scratch Nights season next appears at Tristan Bates Theatre on 11th April 2016.


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