23rd International Playwriting Festival

Manoli by Giorgos Neophytou (presented by Theatro Ena, Cyprus)
Mud, Mouth, Kiss by Brierley Thorpe (UK)
Lina by Massimo Salvianti (presented by Extra Candoni, Italy) One Night in the Power Industry by Bob Gallagher (UK) Warehouse Theatre, Croydon

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Delayed from its usual slot in November, this was a festival chosen from over 600 submissions of new plays in 2008. I was not able to attend the whole festival this year and was unable to see the short extracts from runner-up plays and the work of the Brit School and the Warehouse theatre's own Writers' Workshop. However I but did manage to catch the two evening sessions with extracts from the two prime selections from Festival entries and the plays presented by the Festival's Italian and Cypriot partners.

Manoli is a one act solo piece, performed by Lucy Christofi Christy. The dramatist describes it as a duologue, the second character being the title role Manoli, a rather overweight cat whom the actress has to make us imagine by the way she directs her conversation to him.

At first this seems to be a simple situation: a boy outside taking pot shots with is shotgun and this black-dressed widow worried that her much loved companion could become a target. As it unfolds this becomes a much darker story that harks back eleven years to another gunshot when the woman's son was killed as a political opponent of the rebelling faction that sought power and precipitated the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus. It is a moving evocation of a situation many must have lived through in places where there has been civil conflict, a neighbour the known killer of one you loved. That it is written now, more than a further two decades from when it is set and those events have largely been swept under the carpet is significant in itself, but for a non-Cypriot audience it will have a much wider resonance. This production by Andreas Christodoulides (Artistic Director of Theatro Ena) emphasises the relationship between woman and the cat that was a tiny kitten when her son was killed, which makes her isolation more apparent and by avoiding the over dramatic actually strengthens the dramatic effect.

Mud, Mouth, Kiss is a full length play set in Northern Ireland, later moving to London, of which we saw only the first four scenes. Opening on a river bank it presents us with Fergus, fishing for eels, and two girls. One is rather reticent with a very strict, though heavy-drinking father, who is keeping herself for the right man. Her friend, who is always trying to get her to unbutton, is described by Fergus as 'always dazzling trouble.'

They make a lively entirely believable trio and this is a very funny script that pitches us into the flaunting and wishful experiment of burgeoning sexuality along with some clever Old Testament quotation. Quite where it would go on to take us could not even be guessed from this extract (though I gather it has a surprise ending). It got very spirited performances from Ross Armstrong, Noelleen Cominskey and Christina Carty under Jack McNamara's direction.

Lina (given here in Doireann Lalor's translation) begins in a mental home with the name character, played with just the right mixture of self-knowledge, uncertainty and disorientation by Paola Dionisotti, being taken off the medication which has kept her tranquil. The script and Massimo Marinoni's direction certainly suggested the confusion in her mind but also left me confused about what was actually going on, what was real and what not and whether the doctor who had taken over responsibility for her was actually taking her into his own home and exploiting her. Behind it seems to be a sad story of a woman, who may or may not have been a murderess, acting as nanny to a child who in fact is her own daughter given up for adoption but whom she has promised never to reveal is hers. Leslie Csuth played the doctor and Lara Parmiani and Michaela Ravano the daughter and a cook.

One Night in the Power Industry was much more explicit. It is set in the 70's somewhere under the stadium when Aston Villa are hosting a friendly match against Santos of Argentina with that great footballer Pelé in the visiting team. The problem is that this is at the time of the miner's strike. There are power cuts and no electricity to run the stadium lights. Somehow the Villa have got hold of a generator and three men are responsible for keeping it going so that the match can take place. One of them is desperate to see the match. One of them is a revolutionary firebrand (vocally at least) and one is a gentle easy-going dreamer doing it to boost his saving towards a trip to bathe in the waters of the Ganges. We only got the first couple of dozen pages so again it was impossible to know where this play was going but it certainly displayed a writer with a gift for realistic vernacular speech, a keen sense of comedy and an ability to create strong characters, given flesh and blood by Lee Colley, Jonathan Oliver and Paul Prescott in Ted Craig's lively production. Is there a lively political satire here? These extracts from plays may be effective in rousing interest that could lead to full productions but they are also very frustrating when you want to know what happens!

Entries for the 24th International Playwriting Festival are now invited, closing date 30th June 2009. Details on www.warehousetheatre.co.uk

1st-2nd March 2009.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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