SUMMER SHOWERS, HOPE THEATRE - Review

Formed in January 2010 by Actor/Producer Laura Harling and Director Matthew Parker as an opportunity for like-minded people to present original works, First Draft Theatre aims with just three rehearsal days to create the ultimate ‘scratch’ performance – a process that's fast and instinctive. In the past the scratch night events took place in the spring under the banner of April Showers. Recently, throughout selected dates in August, First Draft's Summer Showers hosted four short plays at the Hope Theatre in Islington: Skyline, Push Up Daisies, Montgomery, and Clean.

Tapping into the zeitgeist regarding the politics behind the changing face of London, David Bottomley's play focuses on Francesca (Katy Federman) a Member of Parliament, and Jasper (Tom Vanson) a representative of the City who acts as a facilitator for the 'needs' of multinational corporations.

In terms of theatre that has "something to say", Skyline is right on the nose in terms of contemporary social relevance. Anyone who lives/works in London is fully aware of the capital's ever-changing nature and the swathes of demolition and construction for Crossrail or luxury flats for affluent clientele. While I personally have a different point of view to Jasper, his fervent argument for 'no sacred cows' in terms of areas of development has its own logic within the play and one wonders if it is this very mindset that is responsible by the powers-that-be for the gentrification of London at the moment.

Francesca's former relationship with Jasper adds an extra frisson to the mix, each with distinct personalities that informs their respective points of view. This elevates what could have been an abstract discussion of social housing policies to living, breathing theatre and both actors are to be commended for their impassioned performances.

Interestingly, its Jasper's own words which finally dissuade Francesca of the legitimacy of his long-term plan and reminds her that people and cultural value are the DNA, the true cornerstone of any thriving city. Skyline's well-written, well-acted and ticked all the boxes.

Jean-Paul Sarte's wrote about it. So has CS Lewis, Michael Frayn, Dante Alighieri... What could it be might you ask? The afterlife – or more specifially the author's idea of what it's like (which often celebrates and subverts popular notions on the topic). Written by Kudzi Hudson, the second play of Summer Showers begins with (Sam – Sarah Sparrow) waking up in a place she's unfamilar with. Absorbed with playing with his iPhone, St. Peter (Timothy Harker) mans the reception desk. Much mirth is mined from Sam trying to come to terms with being dead and Peter nonchalently setting her straight about what God's really like, how the sort of person she was previously led to her demise (causality speaking) and her ultimate fate.

There were aspects of the play where I detected the influence of Maureen Chadwick's The Speed Twins, a play where the afterlife is based on a very real place and the movie Dogma. However I enjoyed Hudson's original elements, particularly Peter's assessment of the 'selfie' generation!

Tim Harker and Sarah Sparrow were also very good in Roger Goldsmith's Montgomery. In this play Harker also mans a desk, but as a hotel concierge. Much of the play has 'Monty' addressing the audience, talking about his unhappy marriage (including their non-existent sex life) and the goings on in the hotel – in particular with Lily (Sparrow). Lily has the same occupation as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, so she spends a lot of time at the hotel. In Monty's 'famished' mind, Lily has become the epitome of his fantasies, not unlike Tom Ewell's fixation with Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch. Like Ewell's character, Monty finds that something has to change in his life and Lily does genuinely seem to like him...

The play itself is very funny, with Monty's finding it hard to come to terms with his middle-aged 'itch'. Playing devil's advocate, I suspect some may find the uncomplimentary remarks about the wife to be 'unfair', which is a bit reminiscent of the Les Dawson era. If there was a way of letting the audience hear some of her comments (perhaps as one of Monty's memories) it would give the audience a chance to evaluate what she's like for themselves. Maybe we find Monty's being more charitable than he's letting on!

With regards to Peter Hobday's Clean, I think this was the only play that evening that unequivically could have done with tweaking. I like a good monologue and plays about memories, but to be brief, it seemed to lack the emotional centre to make us really care about Joan Potter's character. Admittedly I was tired that night after an extremely hectic week, but after talking with a few people who were there also, one suggestion made was because of the nature of the play, it needed more than three days rehearsal to flesh out its qualities fully. That's certainly a possibility.

Anyway, these observations aren't meant to be taken as 'gospel'. Just first impressions of the scratch performances. But the evening itself was a resounding success and the overall performances that evening were very impressive, especially given the limited time they had to rehearse.

© Michael Davis 2015

Summer Showers ran at the Hope Theatre on selected dates throughout August 2015.

Author's review: 
4