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ALRA North, 2018 graduate showcase (Susan Elkin reviews)

Directed by Chris Hill, this no-frills showcase started with a short  film before offering us fifteen quite meaty duologues featuring this year’s 30 ALRA North graduates in pairs. Of course I can see the rationale behind this format but it creates an hour of rather heavy theatre without much pacing or rhythm. Personally, moreover, I’d rather see each graduate in more than one role so that we get a sense of him or her having a playing range and I’m pretty sure that most casting directors and agents would feel the same.

Nonetheless we saw some talent in this group.  Winnie Southgate as Fi and Beth Nolan as Alice, for example are enjoyable in Rotterdam by Jon Brittain. They’re a gay couple but Alice has now realised that she is innately male and needs to transition. The two actors listen intently to each other and the text asks a whole series of difficult and complex questions which they handle with thoughtful sensitivity.

Or take Daneka Etchells in Simon Stone’s Yerma. She twinkles with disingenuous ignorance as her partner Colin Hadfield struggles to tell her that he ejaculated in the bath before she got in it and that if she’s pregnant that may be why. Of course she knows perfectly well what he did and whole thing is just a wind-up exploiting his embarrassment and biological ignorance. She feigns crossness nicely with loads of dramatic irony: the audience suspects the truth but Hadfield’s spluttering, awkward character does not.

There’s good comedy – also based on embarrassment – in the extract from Luke Norris’s Growth. The comic timing as Jack Wagman as Tobes persuades Conor Ledger’s very reluctant Joff to check his testicle is skilfully played for laughs with commendably naturalistic acting. Wagman and Ledger change the mood adeptly too when they, and the audience, realise that Tobes really does need to see a doctor – as soon as possible. Suddenly it’s no longer a joke.

I liked the work of Elen Benfield (Suse) and Megan Wolfe (Jude) in Sadie Hasler’s rather sparky Pramkicker too. They are sisters. Jude is in serious trouble for dangerously aggressive behaviour. Suse speaks for her like a very reasonable alter ego. It’s a good choice for a showcase (much less familiar than many of the other extracts here) and the two actors play off each other rather well.

Chay February finds plenty of warmth in Barry trying to make his younger brother (Corey Weekes – truculently angry as Mark)  see sense in Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads by Roy Williams – another pair of actors who complement each other.

Trafalgar Studios is a surprisingly good venue for a showcase. The steeped raking ensures that every audience member is close and the smallish playing space means that the two actors on stage at any given time are not lost in vast emptiness. The enclosing set for The Grinning Man, under which the showcase took place, adds intimacy too. All this means that you can see the whites of these young actors’s eyes at quasi-televisual distance. And that’s a bonus.

PICK OF THE BUNCH: Director, Roman Stefanski chooses Daneka Etchells

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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