The Other Room - Young Artists' Festival 2015

The Other Room, Cardiff’s first permanent pub theatre company, based at Porters Bar in the city centre, has had a highly successful inaugural season. Productions of Sarah Kane’s Blasted, Howard Barker’s The Dying Of Today and Alun Saunders’s A Good Clean Heart have played to near-universal critical acclaim and sell-out houses in the tiny venue.

As a postscript to this, and building on its appeal to younger theatre-goers, the company decided to hold a week-long Young Artists’ Festival, aimed at new entrants to the profession, whether actors, writers or directors.

The week began with a day-long series of sessions dealing with such topics as working with new writing, Equity membership, fundraising, the process of setting up a company, working with agents, and stage-management. The rest of the week was devoted to the creation of new work.

Six aspiring writers came up with new pieces, assisted by workshops given by playwright Gary Owen, BBC Radio Drama producer Helen Perry, and Nina Steiger, Associate Director of Soho Theatre. These were given rehearsed readings before an invited audience on the final day.

The public face of the Festival was the hour-long programme of specially commissioned short plays, presented on the final three nights. These were performed, for the most part, by actors aged between 17 and 24, selected via open audition. Each of the pieces provided an oblique take on contemporary concerns, with a noticeable focus on social media interactivity (or non-interactivity):

  • In Kelly Jones’s Love, (director Brennig Hayden; starring Owen Pugh, Saskia Pay, Lizzie Fitzpatrick and Marie Westcott) a fiery romance bumps up poetically against urban dystopia.
  • Tracy Harris’s Trending (director Beth Cowley; starring Naomi Underwood, Oliver Canning, Ellen Thomas, and Jessica Tait), sees a student’s infatuation with her lecturer coincide unhappily with his YouTube-friendly activities as a Fathers For Justice campaigner.
  • Tim Price’s I Feel Sexy All The Time (director Natalie Paisey; cast: Holly Davies, Franziska Brunel-Roberts, Susan Monkton, Lily Griffiths, Nikki Hill, Rebecca Villa and Sarah Hancock) is a verbally minimal but physically frantic take on perceptions of female sexuality—this piece received the most fulsome audience response on the night I attended.
  • Neil Bebber’s Like (director: James Auheb; starring Mathew David, Melangell Dolma and Luke Bailey), paints a chilling picture of world and personal crises as viewed via Facebook.
  • Cargo by Matt Hartley (director: Chelsea Gillard; cast: Sam Creasey, Catherine Griffin, Ankur Sengupta and Sophie Bryant) is a sober reflection on human trafficking, told from a number of perspectives.

All three nights were sell-outs and, despite the dark themes explored, the general mood in the venue was a celebratory one. One hopes that the first Young Artists’ Festival will not be the last.