SPIRAL, The Bedford, Balham - Review

Joining the growing ranks of theatre companies hosting scratch nights in London, Free Rayne Artists' Spiral is a welcome addition to southwest London. Run by Rebecca Rayne and Matthew Frener, their last sold out event, which ran at The Bedford in Balham, showcased seven short plays. Some were of an intimate, personal nature while others certainly had something to say about the world today.

Mixed Tape (written by Teresa Burns and directed by Ellie Gauge) stars Tanya Truman and Leanne Pettit as two very different friends and housemates. While Pettoit' Sarah is trying to sneak in after a night out without being detected, we see Truman's character intently focused on making that most personal and thoughtful of romantic gestures – a mix tape. Except Truman's motives for doing so aren't about nurturing the first buds of love, but subliminally communicating with her ex-boyfriend in the wake of their break-up. Interestingly, Mixed Tape veers to what the play is really all about – the womens' relationship – and how their feelings for each other run much deeper than they have previously acknowledged to themselves...

If Mixed Tape's revelation throws a few curve balls, then Spiral's second play, Thirteen matches this – and then some. Written by Chrissy Jamieson-Jones, it features two teenage girls (Rosie Akerman, Emily Stott) who compare fantasies and who they're going out with. Nothing new you might say in that – except that as we find out later, they are not at the cusp of legal adulthood, but 13... Just to compound things, the man who had his way with Stott's character is a teacher – his only 'defence' being he didn't have the vaguest idea of her true age. The actors who played the teenage girls were excellent, as was Stott's 'mother' (Annabelle Green) who goes through a gamut of emotions – from being angry at her daughter's friend, the man in question and anybody else who thinks she may be an unfit mother...

On a more upbeat note, the subsequent play could be described as a funny version of Stephen King's Misery, when a comedian coming face-to-face with his "number one fan". Starring Kirsty Cherrett and Marc Dehaney, That Joke certainly shows how not to behave with celebrities – in public or elsewhere, though the coda does offer hope for professional stalkers!

Leading up to the interval The Sanctuary (written by Eva Edo, directed by Susan Raasay) features Layo-Christina Akinlude and Emily Thornton. Revolving around two teachers, we see how a large proportion of their time is weighted towards administration ­­– especially when it comes to the reporting of accidents involving pupils which has a strict protocol.

Mirroring the tone of Mixed Tape, Baby Steps (written and directed by Olivia Collinge Gawn) stars Rebecca Rayne and Rebecca Finch as close friends who have to come to terms with some life-changing news. Having her boyfriend break up with her is hard enough to take for Finch's character, but realising she's having his child leaves her head spinning. Rayne's character is more pragmatic about the situation and doesn't see it as a means for her friend to coerce her ex to being a couple again. Of course you can't live someone else's life for them and you have to let people make their own mistakes... In some ways the core message of Baby Steps has been said before in other plays, but what makes it work is the 'journey' itself, with the audience enjoying the chemistry of the actors and understanding – if not identifying with – the respective points of view.

Termination, the penultimate play, is a surreal take on capitalism as a group of business men in the wake of being laid off, gather together regularly around a bin fire to discuss 'strategies'. Samuel Beckett's influence is very evident in the piece, especially in the ending, where carrying on isn't a Promethean act of defiance, but more akin to the headless body of an animal that keeps moving, not realising it's already dead...

The evening ended on a high with Double Bubble, about the competitiveness of two so-called-friends... Performed by Bethany Springall and Megan Pemberton, their discreet one-upmanship while meeting for a coffee had everyone made in hysterics. Their defensive body language and inflection of words spoke volumes, often in complete contrast of what was actually said. Two very funny actors indeed.

© Michael Davis 2016

Spiral ran at The Bedford, Balham, SW12 on 13th May 2016.

Free Rayne Artists are ­­­­looking for new short plays, actors and directors for the next Spiral event, which will be a three-day festival at The Bread and Roses Theatre on 16th, 17th and 18th October 2016



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