WRITE NOW 7: Fight Or Flight, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre - Review

While London is blessed with an abundance of mainstream theatres and fringe theatre venues, there are arguably only a few venues in London that in conjunction with hosting plays and scratch nights, have a fully developed programme for the nurturing of playwrights' work – and the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre is one of them. Its annual Write Now Festival is in its seventh year and on Saturday 7th May, hosted a day of short plays under the theme of Fight Or Flight. In keeping with previous years' entrants, the responses were of an exceptional high standard, with equally diverse subject matter.

Written by Heidi Hammond and directed by John Fricker, Number's Up focuses on a mother and daughter who are in hiding from an abusive family member. Leah (Charlie McClimens) and Abi (Maia Watkins) the mother and daughter in question, have been found by Tobie, (Louis Krommenhoek) Abi's cousin – who also happens to be 'tight' with Abi's father. Spinning a tale about a small-to-medium sized lottery win, Abi wants to meet up with her father, who she's always got on with. Leah, who remembers vividly the broken jaw she recieved from her ex-partner, is already thinking two steps ahead. Can they get rid of the cousin long enough so that they can pack the essentials and flee? A great start to Fight Or Flight, which set the tone for the rest of the event.

Staying with a scenario very much rooted in reality and the headlines, Sophie Cairns' Nothin' Goes Off Unplanned (directed by Dilek Latif) on the surface appears to be predominantly about teenage girls involved in gang culture and the violence that sometimes accompanies this. However like any good play, it is about so much more... Leann O'Kasi plays Ewo, whose job can loosely be described as a cross between a truancy officer and a social worker. On this occasion she brings in Jade (Sydney Aldridge) to talk to. Jade is naturally apprehensive about this as it's no secret that she doesn't attend school on a regular basis. Ewo's line of questioning seems to indicate that Jade was involved or at least knows something about a local girl who is in critical condition. However the answers Ewo receives from Jade are not quite what she's expecting. Nor do solutions readily come to mind...

Playing the 'mature' adult in scenes of conflict can be difficult, but O'Kasi manages to convey Ewo's 'frayed' optimism and compassion for people. Aldridge as Jade is a revelation. really getting under the skin of a teenager who has to care for her mother (with a drinking problem) and whose only support network is her 'crew' (which as explained in the play are different from 'gangs' which are synonymous with crime). It's evident from the writing that Cairns has a keen interest in writing about teenagers and life in urban surroundings, and certainly a talent to watch out for in the future.

Set much further afield, but in many ways familiar, Sami Ibrahim's Carnivore focuses on hunger in a war zone. Following a supply drop from humanitarian services, Khaled (Adam Anouer) rummages for food among the ruins. His euphoria at finding a fresh, sizable piece of meat is short-lived as a girl of similar age to him, has him at gunpoint. Sent by her father to scavenge for supplies, Yasmin (Bianca Beckles-Rose) must decide if she can kill a person with ravenous hunger – a person who would rather die there and then than relinquish his only sustenance in ages.

To a degree it's easy to be desensitised to news footage showing people living in extreme circumstances. The fact that in the play the very young are killing adults (including the elderly) shows how it doesn't take much for the veneer of civilization to slip away, only to be replaced by the spiritual heirs from the Lord of the Flies. Extremely thought-provoking.

Tying in with air strikes in Carnivore, David Tarbuck's The Bird In The Sky (directed by JP Conway) tackles the 'flying' of drones for military use. On the surface it covers similar territory to George Brant's Grounded,  but whereas that play focused on a female pilot who has to find ot, Bird also looks at the trainers of drone pilots and the 'ethics' of war. Crew (James Beaumont) has been assigned Val (Rosemarie Lovegrove) to train for piloting drones. It's a solitary existence, sitting in a small room for hours on end, waiting for orders. Crew breaks up the monotony of the day by trying to guess which part of Wales Val's from, much to her chagrin. The training, however, doesn't last long, as they are contacted about an urgent mission...

Tarbuck's pieces concentrates first and foremost on people. The military personal here are human beings who are born and raised in Britain, who like everyday things such as biscuits and who have joined up because it's a job (a rare thing to have in this day and age) with opportunities for advancement. We also see in the character of Crew someone who has a conscience and has his moments of doubt, but ultimately it's a trade off between completing the mission and 'human collateral'. Val at this juncture of her life hasn't had too many moments where she's had to make judgement calls 'in the field', but that will soon change...

Superhero (by Mark Harvey Levine, directed by Brigid Lohrey) sees Leonard (Simon Kent), a self-confessed 'superhero' trying to help his agoraphobic neighbour Rachel (Dora Jejey). The reason Leonard's taken on this other identity is to give him a sense of being in control. However he senses Rachel needs this sense of empowerment more than he does. By shedding his attire and passing it to her, the transition is complete...

Directed by Kate Bannister, I'll Be Seeing You by Natasha Berger sees Jonah (Robert Metson) talk about his relationship with his 'missing' sister. In my experience there are not many plays that deal solely with brother-sister relationships, let alone one-man plays, but I'll Be Seeing You was an unexpected delight. Rich in detail and dark in tone, the way the past encrouches on the past is evident in this intriguing character study.

Having seen Gemma Mills McGrath's Botticellis Angels two years ago, I was looking forward to her latest play. The Reunion (directed by Roberta Zurich), see­­s Eammon (Alexander McMorran) meeting up with Janey (Roisin Monaghan) who stood him up on their wedding day. He's happily married to someone else now, but chance to get a few things off his chest proves to be irresistible... A funny play that's grounded in pathos, The Reunion touches on the necessity for closure and the need to see relationships with clarity.

Many of the short plays in Fight Or Flight could be expanded to full length plays. I certainly hope so, as it would be a pity if they were only aired during this event. In any case, Fight Or Flight was an unqualified success. Roll on the rest of the Write Now Festival.

© Michael Davis 2016

Write Now 7: Fight Or Flight ran at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre on 7th May 2016.

The Write Now Festival is currently running Better Together, a review of which will be posted soon.


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