Vignettes 4

Laura Harper, Nikki Mailer, Steph Lacey, Houmi Mlura, Alex Keelan, Lekhani Chirwa
HER Productions
Hope Mill, Manchester

Bad Tash: Tia Larsen & Janelle Thompson
Blink and the Moon has Gone: Stefanie Hammoudeh & Sam Ebner-Landy
Hope is a Thing with Feathers: Leah Eddleston
The Darker Side of Birds: Sarah White, Sushil Chidasama & Pat Brocklehurst
Love Leftover: Frankie Lipman & Fiona Scott
Bones: Adrianna Liu, Solaya Sang & Trisa Triandesa

For its fourth series of Vignettes, HER Productions seems to be pushing to the limit what can be achieved in short plays.

Natasha (Tia Larsen) is ready for her close-up. She has always been a performer and is determined to make a lasting impression. But tonight, she seems to be having technical issues with the microphone and there is the continuous chiming on her phone acting as a reminder of something she would rather ignore. Lekhani Chirwa’s Bad Tash begins like an in-joke. Hope Mill attracts artistically inclined audiences, so gags about acting and actors are going to go down well. The darker side of the story is not as satisfactory, moving from opaque hints to a literal explanation of Natasha’s situation. Tia Larsen remains an engagingly vulnerable character even at her most delusional.

Nikki Mailer’s Blink and the Moon has Gone is a swaggeringly ambitious play setting out the ups and downs of a relationship through disconcerting, fragmented short scenes and fractured, realistically over-lapping dialogue. Director Nadia Emam employs a variety of storytelling techniques. The dance which opens the play and establishes Stefanie Hammoudeh’s character is both intimidatingly expert and maternal—carefully tying Sam Ebner-Landy’s shoelaces. The script may be over-ambitious; in addition to the usual irritations in a relationship, one person is Jewish and the other Palestinian. Blink and the Moon has Gone is complex and passionate enough to possibly extend to a longer running time.

Act one ends with a gem from Alex Keelan: Hope is a Thing With Feathers. Nina (Leah Eddleston) could easily be described as a ‘chav’. Hyperactive and confrontational, brutalised by her harsh upbringing and social circumstances, she cannot bring herself to acknowledge her poetic soul. Amy Gavin’s direction emulates the aggressive manner of the character—events rush into each other in a potentially confusing but highly energising manner. A stunning performance from Leah Eddleston creates a memorable character—guileless but blazingly charismatic Nina is incapable of ever surrendering and has an aching vulnerability she is unable to recognise. It has the effect of making you want to stand up and cheer her on, despite Eddleston making my eyes water by dropping into splits from a standing position.

The second act is lighter in tone and may even have a common theme of families. Laura Harper’s The Darker Side of Birds is a sneakily funny revenge comedy with Sarah White’s soon-to-be divorced wife plotting comedic revenge upon her manipulative husband (Sushil Chudasama). The humour in the script is bracingly cynical yet the overall tone is uplifting, and the dialogue is terrific. The viewpoint that divorce is to be welcomed as freedom helps one cope with loneliness becomes somehow inspirational rather than bleak.

Steph Lacey’s Love Leftover concerns the unfortunately universal theme of coping with grief. Lacey’s heartfelt script carefully builds the groundwork for the devastating guilt and remorse experienced after a loved-one passes. Much of the success of the play is due to Frankie Lipman and Fiona Scott movingly creating a convincing and natural mother-daughter relationship. Director Heather Carroll skilfully utilises casts from other plays to articulate in a bullying manner the self-lacerating emotions experienced after loss.

Bones by Houmi Miura takes a very unusual approach to themes of cultural and sexual identity. A pair of squabbling sisters find they know less than they expected about the customs of their country of origin when they are expected to take part in a Japanese funeral ritual called “Kotsuage”. The script touches upon comic tensions that are common between siblings, but the singular feature of the play is a very unusual, even macabre, ritual that pushes the story into dark but undeniably funny territory.

Four years on and Vignettes is showing no sign of running out of steam.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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