24:7 theatre festival

24:7 theatre festival – post 29th July

I suspect I’m not alone in never having heard of the Manchester 24:7 theatre festival which is now in its 8th consecutive year and takes place 21 – 29 July 2011.   What a shame I haven’t been involved before!  I’ve discovered that it’s a brilliant event taking place over nine days every year, across different and interesting venues in the city.  Priced at only £8 per show (and £6 concessions) it offers affordable access to modern playwrights and flourishing actors, as well as a chance to experience something a little unconventional.   The judges have picked 13 brand new one-hour plays from over 100 applicants.  The pieces run the gamut from Brechtian musical drama to controversial comedy to family focused fun. The mission is to nurture new talent and showcase it in Manchester with a series of premieres for our viewing pleasure.  There are loads of other events going on such as readings and films.  Check them out: http://www.247theatrefestival.co.uk/

I decided to get right involved with a trip to each of the three venues for the 9pm showings (which incidentally is a great time for theatre as it means you can have some evening fodder first).  The three I sampled are below:

  1. Flag – New Century Building – Thursday 21 July

Flag’s premise is a washed up club circuit comedian who’s turned into the character of a fascist monster.  His creator is a mercenary comedy writer seeking fame through controversy.  The two protagonists want the audience to laugh at Flag, not with him and hopefully spot the irony.  The twist (spoiler alert..!) is that the writer’s own Freudian childhood insecurities are reflected in the monster, Corporal Flag, and his quest for the character’s infamy leads him to criminal behaviour. 

The set and the lighting worked well and it was mostly well scripted.  Maybe it was first night nerves but the actors didn’t seem entirely comfortable or convincing in their roles.  I actually think they should have swapped roles to be more believable.  There were plenty of laughs from the audience, but just like Flag’s own crowd, you weren’t entirely laughing with him.

  1. True – Midland Hotel – Monday 25 July

True takes the audience on a familial journey through a series of monologues given by Cumbrian Charlotte and her mother, Sheila.  Each of the 5 acts sees only one character perform with scenes spanning from 1986 to the current day.  It documents the difficulties of a mother-daughter relationship and is a testament of love despite difficulties.

Both actors gave a robust performance that swept the audience through the decades with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and convincing crises.  Despite its humour, it was poignant, warm and moving.  True managed to deal with huge emotional issues with a brilliant lightness of touch, thanks to the quality writing.  This was easily my favourite play of the week.

  1. Telling Lives – Sacha’s Hotel – Wednesday 27 July

Telling Lives was a completely different piece of theatre which my philistine review won’t do justice to!  It is based in the historical setting of Prestwich Asylum just before the Great War and is a ‘Brechtian Fiction’ (which a blue-link skip through Wikipedia allows me to summarise as: always keeping the audience aware that they are watching a play.)  It certainly achieved this, with its striking mix of song, monologue, dialogue and howls of inner turmoil!  I can’t really compare it to the other pieces I’ve seen this week (or ever) because it is a world apart.  All I can say is that it was atmospheric, the cast gave a thorough and energetic performance and that it was trying to convey the unjust damning of sane people to squalid conditions all those years ago.  It wasn’t easy to follow what was going on or easily pick up the subtext, but maybe that’s the point? It felt like I needed to go away and read deeply into it, rather than solely getting the concept on the day.

The biggest surprise was the venue.  Sacha’s is a strange beast, more akin to ladies of the night than cutting edge theatre, but the chintzy dining hall was perfect to give an eerie out-of-date feel to the opinions expressed in the drama.  I also loved the stage setting, with the stage at the centre and the audience sat in a square around it (a la Royal Exchange).  Plus the actors sitting amongst the audience, whilst always remaining in character, was a fantastic (and almost certainly Brechtian) touch!

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