A Collection of Incredible Stories

A company devised production scripted by Samantha Wright
Rough Cut Theatre
Oh! art centre, Bethnal Green
(2004)

Rough Cut Theatre is a current new kid on the theatre block, co-founded by Iain Tidbury and Dawn Fleming in 2003, turning out ambitious work like hot cakes after their successful debut production of Four Ladders. Their second ensemble production, A Collection of Incredible Stories, has a wonderful mixture of physical theatre and puppetry. The Skeleton Woman highlights the company’s diverse storytelling style with barmaids that, “sing, music [that] brings flesh [to life], and the space you see could be a lie. Skeletons fly, puppets plunge into water, photos come to life and journeys seem to have no end…” However, unfortunately the marketing material did not deliver its end of this incredible bargain, neither did the title of the show, in the actual execution of the production.

Like many new theatre companies, they have the energy and enthusiasm of young lovers but not always the sophistication needed to make powerful theatre. A Collection of Incredible Stories is more like a series of three separate sketches. These may be described in terms of each story location: the Church, or as described in the programme, ‘To Church We Thread’; the other side of a window, or‘Quantum Kitchen,’ and a bar somewhere in America, or ‘A Local Cosmos’, (the weakest link within the production). It was an ambitious attempt to perhaps do too much, making the scenes long winded which slowed the actual storytelling down, . This was primarily due to an underdeveloped linking devise between the separate stories.

The Super String Theory offers a poetically captivating conflict between science and religion that could have created the successful magic ingredient to contextualise all the stories, had it been used to its full potential. Instead, the pre-recorded voice-over seemed more like informative sounds for scene changes, as opposed to a dramatic intervention. Had the text the same integrity as the theory, then this would have been an amazing piece of theatre.

All three female protagonists share mundane lonely lives which can best be summarised by the ‘Pearl's a Singer’ song played in the ‘A local Cosmos’ scene. This song depicted the inner life of Pam Noble, the washed up bartender, played, in a versatile and powerful performance, by Dawn Fleming. These women attempt to change their situations in search for some kind of happiness, but it is far more interesting to see the impact they have on the people around them. It is here that the audience is getting a taste of the potential of the production and wishing for more as the themes of life/love are hardly specific enough in ‘Quantum Kitchen’ or ‘A Local Cosmos’ to ever develop a strong enough momentum.

The most intriguing story with the strongest creative stage direction is the, ‘To Church We Thread,’ scene which felt like a play in its own right. Here both the performance and the text work together to create a captivating story about a church prude called Joy, played by the talented and extremely interesting to watch Kate Mooney, who finds love with a French run-away thief called Suzette, played by the charming Rebecca Hyland.

Those sporadic moments are definitely the ‘magical’ moments that the company are shooting for. In those moments the audience see the company’s creative potential and wishes they had done less, better, then try to do too much, rather roughly. I feel that it is only fitting to end with the Artistic Director's words as what they aim towards is just as important as what they achieve: “As a company we aim to build a performance style that has flexibility to the demands of each story. We aim to continually explore the use of the ensemble in the creation of theatre. By adopting simple as well as traditional theatrical techniques that will create magical imagery and that are visually engaging and dramatically compelling.” Rough Cut Theatre is a dynamic ensemble company to look out for over the next few years, to watch them develop their style, and to observe their magical theatrical moments multiply.

Reviewer: Lennie Varvarides