Reviewed by G.M.P. for The Croydon Advertiser
A drama festival without an adjudicator, not a single trophy, and most of the material invented as the teams went along! Doubtless the very idea will appal the “trad” drama groups.
However, Coulsdon’s Theatre Workshop initiated one on these lines for youth drama companies at their centre in Chipstead Valley Road on Saturday, and the result was stimulating and entertaining. (Part two takes place at the same venue tomorrow, July 11, at 7:30).
Four teams were billed as taking part last week: Unit X (Coulsdon’s home crowd); Drama Go Round, Norbury; Centre 70 from Crawley; anmd Threshold (a redeployment of some of the Coulsdon members).
A fairly good audience, predominantly of members from the various participating organisations, was encouraged to ask questions and make comments, and this a few of them did freely.
There was honest admission from one middle-aged lady that she hadn’t enjoyed some of the improvisations but had felt she’d like to get up and join in! A very vocal young man in a white sweater showed by his recurring indictments that he was no enthusiast for experimental theatre – “Pseudo avant-garde rubbish,” he once mysteriously called it. of one item, he asked, with the hint of a sneer: “Isn’t it a bit self-indulgent?” – and one of the actors cracked back sharply: “No more than anything else in theatre is.”
Had I been called upon to adjudicate this leg of the festival, my vote would have gone to Drama Go Round because their presentation had variety, channelled imagination and “grew to a point” more markedly than some of the other contributions. We saw how quickly they learned from their mistakes too, as when an improvisation about loneliness on a park bench in a city didn’t “get there” and at once two other members took the now “planted” idea and made a charming and psychologically truthful little duologue from it.
Two scripted sketches by Pinter were included – the one a farcical use of the peculiar names of engineering components, the other the familiar “Black and White,” in which two seedy habituees of an all-night cafe converse, without making contact, about last buses. While the actresses, Maddalena Stevens and Susan Wood, didn’t bring out all the nuances with which this masterly sketch is fraught (it lacked the instinctive timing Pinter demands), they brought it off pretty well and the scornful young man’s stricture that “they didn’t get enough laughs from this very funny piece” seemed to me right off-beam. The piece is as sad as it is amusing, and certainly not made for belly-laughs.
This Norbury group also did a lively version of “Jonah Man Jazz” and gave an interesting selection of poems, from which Jon Silkin’s “Died in a Mental Home Aged One” was intensely moving, both in the writing and for the unaffected sensitivity with which it was read by Susan Wood.
Coulsdon’s own contribution was admitted by them to illustrate only part of their work and consisted in the main of a number of excited and often exciting improvisations. (I thought, incidentally, that as entertainment all the contributions were allowed to go on too long throughout the evening.) A youthful dynamo called Alan Clarke led the workshop contingent but seemed to me to impose his ideas too insistently on the rest and to jump rather too readily and often into the limelight.
However, there was plenty of imagination in this group’s programme too. I especially liked the building-up of emotional scenes using single letters of the alphabet in place of convetional words. One young actor scored a comedy hit with his seduction conducted in this restricted form – his partner cheating cunningly by pressing the ambivalent “Y” into service.
An attempt to present the story of “Icarus,” with the majority of the company making an interesting set-piece of the destructuve sun-burst, was dimsissed by Mr Clarke as a “total failure” afterwards, though it didn’t seem so to me. They also did a host of ‘Method’ exercises, including the famous one about “being trees.” (The result didn’t merit the comment made by the soured visitor to the Strasberg studio in America who, seeing this exercise in progress, remarked “If this be method yet there’s madness in it!”)
Threshold’s part scripted improvisation, in which original poems by the group were linked with music to make a kind of patchwork comment on life, failed to come across because poor voice production stifled some fo the reading; this was a pity, because the matter that could be heard was good; the music chosen wasn’t apt or well integrated, though. As someone said to me later, what was needed was specially composed musique concrete made up of familiar sounds. Vic Bateman “masterminded” this item.
Described as “A happening,” youthful Centre 70’s scrap-book of the anomalies of life in the ‘seventies (world hunger set beside drooling advertisements for food; trivia in fashion against the menace of drug-taking, and so on) had perhaps the most outward-looking ideas of the evening, and they were the only group to use the proscenium stage; but they needed more punch in putting their material across. The Election comment, for example, was too tame and non-committal, and the supposed picture of the excesses of the permissive society lacked conviction. The point about the World Cup mania set against the misery of the Peruvian earthquake was more forcefully made.