The Collective Project: Camden People's Theatre - Review

The collective project rehearsals

Photo from rehearsals of 'Watch' by Jo Pockett.

Cast: Alfie Rowland, Daniel Page, JP Conway, Michael Shon, Patrick Neyman, Ryan Wichert, Alexandra Donnachie, Caroline Short, Cassadra Bond, Dilek Latif, Kim Burnett, Rhiannon Story.

Directors/Workshop Leaders: Gavin Dent, Neil Sheppeck, Chris Lawson, Richard Jacques, Bryony Thomas, Sarah Ford, Laura Kim, Madelaine Moore,

Playwrights: Andrew Curtis, Will Howells, Mike Carter, Joseph Lidster, Guleraana Mir, Jo Pockett, Polly Churchill, Kate Webster

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This was my second experience of a ‘Collective Project’ by the Pensive Federation, and I was not only looking forward to what I hoped would be another entertaining and varied evening, but was also pleased that this time I’d brought a friend to share it with; I rightly anticipated that this would be an evening of stories and laughter I would want to share with someone and chat about afterwards.

The set up of the evening was an ambitious one: an evening of new writing – eight 12 minute plays – created over 12 days, by 8 directors, 8 writers and 12 actors. The theme of the evening was, fittingly, collectives, with the titles: Party, Coven, Pack, Congregation, Dossier, Watch, Caravan, and Family. Each play was written for 6 actors, all the same sex, and the male writers, directors and workshop leaders were tasked with creating a piece for the six women, and the female writers, directors and facilitators creating a piece for the six male actors. This was not a boys versus girls experience, however; rather an exploration of how groups interact and a creative challenge for the company.

The first half, before the interval, saw the girls take to the stage (although the boys did some excellent set changing), with an entertaining variety of four short plays. The challenge of writing for six characters in a very contained time-frame meant that the most effective narratives were those which threw you into the action quickly and didn’t try to build up to a ‘message’ at the end. The most entertaining play was the witty ‘Pack’, by Mike Carter, neatly directed by Gavin Dent, which explored the modern phenomenon of the ‘selfie’, with an interesting take on the way different generations relate to the internet. The characters were particularly well-played by the cast, with Alexandra Donnachie really standing out – as she also did in Congregation, with lovely physical characterisation. Cassandra Bond also shone in the first half, with consistently strong and varied performances, convincingly inhabiting a range of characters.

For me, the second half was more enjoyable, and certainly had the audience in stitches repeatedly. The writing in the second half, by the female playwrights seemed stronger, more believable, and funnier, and the male actors really brought it to life with full and committed performances. The stand out play in this half was definitely Caravan, set in the men’s toilets at a disastrous wedding. Ryan Wichert gave a hugely energetic performance as a Polish waiter, plying other characters with vodka – ‘the glue of brothers’ – and his Polish accent was exceptional. Wichert’s physical performances stood out in all the plays, and was nicely contrasted with Alfie Rowlands facial comedy, Michael Shon’s earnestness, and Daniel Page’s presence. JP Conway and Patrick Neyman also showed strong emotional range, and all the actors had a gift for timing.

A couple of the plays tried too hard to mix humour and pathos in the limited time, and those with an overt message, such as Congregation felt a little clunky, but overall this was an enjoyable evening and a – truly collective – company to watch.

(C) Kate Massey-Chase, 2013

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The Collective Project,
Pensive Federation,
Camden People's Theatre:
19th - 23rd November.

@CamdenPT @thepenfed

Author's review: 
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