Star Rating: ★★★★
Viable is an exceedingly well curated, passionate and multifaceted love letter to fringe theatre. A scratch night with a whole lot of heart, it is an urgent and much needed digital celebration of the arts at a time where the industry is being increasingly undervalued. Viable gives a crucial platform for new writing in an epoch where few opportunities are being presented due to the perceived risk and instability of the present day. Featuring some very promising short plays, extracts from new musicals and spoken word, it was filmed at The Bread and Roses Theatre and has been edited together to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. This riotous full-length production is thus, a strong message that those in the arts are resilient, they are still creating, they are still passionate and are still raising their voices defiantly to be heard, despite the anguish the past year has caused.
Viable presents sharings from eight unique productions, collectively focussing on relatable and didactic topics such as: loneliness, love, growing up, misogyny, the male gaze, posing as something you’re not and more. Resulting in an invigorating scrapbook of singular snapshots of humanity. We will now go on to talk about each piece and it’s merits.
Seaside is a short but sweet monologue about the conflictions of an adopted child in adulthood. The want to know more about their identity and where they came from against, the guilt and not wanting to upset adoptive parents who provided so much and did so much. From the what ifs, to the what might-bes, the piece perfectly captures the frustrations of knowing you had a parent who chose not to be in your life, in conjunction with the natural curiosity when their details are available to you. Martha Reed‘s writing dextrously builds a thought process in real time, we see the character, as she arrives early and waits to meet her birth mother at a beach for the first time; the bitterness she harbours towards her birth mother, transcends into a intrigue as she wishes she could imagine what certain times in her life would have been like if her biological mother had been there instead. She comments how she wanted for nothing growing up and seemingly feels contrite at the thought of hurting her loving parents who welcomed her into their lives, before wondering what she’s even doing here, conflicted between a thirst to know more and the painful abandonment she feels. Valenzia Spearpoint‘s direction is similarly intelligible, bringing out this journey of the mind, you can see the different thoughts flickering behind the eyes, as well as in the movements of the character as she stands and abruptly changes direction as another thought or feeling takes root, playing with her hands to distract herself as if anxious and fighting the temptation to run, this thought process is thus eloquently and meticulously staged. Nadia Wyn Abouayen‘s delivery is particularly emotively rich and impassioned, engendering an element of pathos as the character’s conflictions manifest before us. There is a beautiful soundscape underneath the piece of waves crashing on the sand, which does much to cement the place-making, at the end a wave of blue light crashes over the character, drawing it wonderfully to a close as if the diverging worries have all been simultaneously been dowsed, just beautiful.
Written by Martha Reed, Directed by Valenzia Spearpoint & Starring Nadia Wyn Abouayen
Supernovas For Super Loners
Supernovas For Super Loners is a brand new musical following two strangers, Emily and Dylan, who are unexpectedly brought together after a night out gone awry in Swansea. The excerpts presented are full of depth and determinedly clever, defined by it’s thematic beauty, the piece takes this idea of a Supernova, occurring when two binary companion stars merge, their encounter being the catalyst for the explosion, the explosion even possibly aiding in new star formation, and thus Supernovas For Super Loners‘ narrative sees two strangers meet by chance, the sparks of love begin to ignite and a chain of events that will see their lives intertwine is set in motion. The songs, which are charming, energetic and uplifting, are therefore beautifully peppered with planetary terminology, such as: universe, galaxy, meteor and more, they focus on a future with several different outcomes, like the unpredictability of runaway nuclear fusion, Ryan Mellish thus beautiful threads a theme of destiny and seizing your own path into his compositions, he powerfully challenges preconceptions, having a homeless character selflessly come to the aid of a struggling writer during a night out, this convention-breaking ideology being written into the piece. The themes of storytelling and finding home, (related to each each character), subsequently emerge, these add great depth, projected trajectory and ambition to the characters, their wants and desires being laid bare. Mellish’s writing intuitively gives his characters a self-awareness of their flaws, seeking to normalise the imperfections and emotional baggage that are just part of life. The song Coco Pops & Orange Juice is particularly witty and enchanting, whilst Benjamin Mowbray‘s direction engenders excellent chemistry between Emily (Saskia Pay) and Dylan (Glen Jordan). Both delivering their character’s with elements of nuance, from a side glance, to a half smile, to convey their innate desire to stay with each other without saying it outright, their lives before being defined by their loneliness. A promising and spell-binding new musical.
Written by Ryan Mellish, Directed by Benjamin Mowbray, Starring Glen Jordan & Saskia Pay
Dear Little Me
Dear Little Me is a lyrical and vivid moment of storytelling in a spoken word format, it is formulated into a prologue and three chapters. What begins as a tender portrait of childhood memories from an adult perspective, devolves into a swirl of memories blending into one. It beautifully encapsulates it’s themes of growing-up and the inherent nostalgia of one’s youth. Written & Performed by Cherry Eckel, Dear Little Me enacts as a perspicuous and hopeful letter to oneself, looking back at what you were, to what you are now and what you hope to be, it is delicately written and intuitively performed.
Written & Performed by Cherry Eckel, Music by Creative Commons
The Last Beacon
Written by Alan Diment, The Last Beacon is a witty and satirical look at the responsibilities of adulthood, it follows Live Action Role-Play* enthusiasts and long-time friends ‘Bjartr’ and ‘Lundron’ who are set to light the last beacon on a glorious night of role-playing a series, entitled The Chronicles of Kalarhan. ‘Lundron’, (or Kevin) clings to his passion for role-play as an escapism, whilst ‘Bjartr’, recently married with a baby on the way, struggles to find time to get away and see his friend, Kevin on the other hand is equally too busy avoiding reality to visit the expectant couple. Tenderly focussing on friendship in a transient period of life and on the need for an alternative reality to escape to when the stresses of real-life mount up, The Last Beacon wonderfully weighs up the need to be grounded in reality to undergo one’s responsibilities (‘proper grown up stuff’), against the need to escape the grief or violence and destruction that is so prevalent in today’s reality, creating two character’s who are equally as scared to face the reality before them. Diment’s writing is thus fantastically characterised by it’s grounding in the tropes of *LARP, from the anecdote of Kevin wearing his battle suit to the wedding, the description of making a baby being like making a battleplan or, of things being safe from Kevin’s perspective when they are planned out like the role-playing he throws himself into so wholeheartedly, to the hilarious description of a baby as an ‘angry pink goblin throwing everything intp chaos’. This is further perpetuated in Danäe Cambrook‘s enigmatic direction, the hilarious embrace of deep, melodramatic voices from the men as they embody their role-played characters, before being transitioned out of abruptly to have the ‘real-life’ conversation beneath, as well as the staged sword combat moments, adventure music underscoring and dramatic raising of the torches in preparation of lighting the beacon, are all energetic motifs that build this fantasy land Kevin wishes to reside in. Whilst the moments of sword-combat do much to portray the contending views on responsibility of the men, despite the fact they are both somewhat scared of reality. The Last Beacon is a charming and witty portrait of desires against culpability packed with comedy, the characters are humorously and lovingly brought to life Nicholas Limm (Kevin/’Lundron’) and Harry Boyd (‘Bjartr’).
Written by Alan Diment, Directed by Danäe Cambrook & Starring Nicholas Limm & Harry Boyd
Slow Dating is a heart-breaking and devastating look at companionship and love from an elderly perspective. It conversationally follows a very prim and proper 70-something who continually rationalises her curiosity. Having spotted a flyer for speed dating for seniors, the week later she ‘unintentionally’ finds herself there, intrigue getting the best of her, or so she suggests. She hilariously comments on the toothless or forgetful collection of men she is subjected to and wonders what she is even doing there considering she is happily married and has been for quite some time, that is until an unexpected stranger (Leon), forwardly shoots his shot. Adam Szudrich‘s piece is so dextrously written, it expertly contrasts the prudish and sentimental nature of the character, with the giddy sensation of a whirlwind romance and sends this 70-something on vital journey of self-discovery, to find she is more than just Albert’s wife. It beautifully portrays this women who is holding on to all she has even known, yet subconsciously she wants crack her hard exterior and let her vulnerability take over, in turn, finding something more for herself. Directed so tenderly by Colette Cullen, Wendy Fisher phenomenally tells this story of love, loss, guilt and desire, her portrayal is full of character and nuance.
Written by Adam Szudrich, Directed by Colette Cullen and Starring Wendy Fisher
Born for Today
Born for Today is a new musical telling the story of Nellie Bly, famed for travelling around the world in under 80 days, (the record set by fictional character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne‘s novel Around the World in Eighty Days). Having just begun her journey on a boat, the song presented here, portrays Nellie’s sudden realisation of the enormity of the task and her lack of pre-planning, it is a powerful and uplifting number where her she sets out her determination to prove herself and knows she will find her way. Playing on the rebuttal Nellie Bly actually made to the misogynistic article ‘What Girls are Good For’, earning her a position as a reporter, the song plays on this refute, including the lyrics ‘I’m gonna show the world what girls are good for’. The song is an uplifting pep-talk that Nellie gives to herself, she processes the madness of her idea of trying to turn a fictional record into reality and envisages herself succeeding, proving herself to those who bet against her and the boundaries and conventions she would break. Born For Today is a wonderful play on Nellie Bly being a pioneer, ahead of her time, that she was destined for greatness back then, but today she would be much more at home, in an age where equality is much closer to being a reality. The composition is a fantastic call to arms for women to challenge anything that limits them, it’s memorable, powerful and intelligible. Whilst Natalie Durkin‘s performance directed by Alice Eklund, is hugely enjoyable and dynamic.
Written by Carrie Caffrey & Earl James Marrows, Directed by Alice Eklund & Starring Natalie Durkin
Blue & Dishwasher Safe
Blue & Dishwasher Safe is a particularly matter-of-fact, Fleabag-esque, direct address. It focusses on sex, more specifically, girl-on-girl sex, an area of mystery, hardly ever reliably portrayed in the media and almost never talked about. Written and Performed by Sassy Clyde the piece is wonderfully frank and makes several interesting observations on the reasons for underrepresentation of queer women and sex, such as the outward lack of understanding of how sex works for them, as heteronormative sex is observed as two components that slot together, making men who have sex with men, similarly as comprehensible from a hetero perspective, whilst queer women who have sex with women are inherently seen as unfathomable by others. Clyde going on to talk about sex as a controlled commodity, the idea sexuality or the expression of it being owned by men, subject to the male-gaze and confined by patriarchal structures, all set out to deny queer women a place in the conversation, as they essentially lack a penis. Sassy Clyde intelligibly aims to lift the curtain on what her idea of sex is, intuitively indicating that actually the experience is different for everyone, her anecdotal and conversational elucidation tackles the shame and stigma surrounding the topic, normalises the use of sex toys and reminds us sex should always be consensual and legal, she also devolves that sex is an ever-evolving human experience, that u-porn generation find more pleasure in mutual masturbation than ever before. What ensues is a provocative and exceedingly smart discourse on sex and representation.
Written and Performed by Sassy Clyde
Reality Bites is a new interactive musical, centring on a reality TV show entitled purgatory, in which you decide out of 9 Z-listers who will reach the heavenly heights of superstardom or face obscurity hell. The musical presents three numbers from the show entitled, Bitch, Girl on Screen and Know Myself. Conceptually the work is very strong, it focusses on the fake personalities engendered by the characters as a ploy to win, as well as the way reality shows are edited to twist the narrative for more views. Bitch is Instagram Influencer Taryn’s confessional as she convinces herself she’s not a bitch, despite her various complaints over her roommates and that her game plan is to make fake friends with another contestant in order to win. Madeleine Leslay‘s delivery is seamless, she embodies this frustrated and driven character to a tee. Girl on Screen is a one-sided love story, as editor and producer Jamil, sings about his love for contestant Natalie as he witness the raw footage of her poor treatment by the other contestants. Lenny Turner excellently portrays Jamil’s enamoured attachment to Natalie and the power the character has to edit a new perspective onto the obnoxious bunch of contestants before him. Finally Know Myself is Natalie’s fiery rebuke of her abusive boyfriend who wants her even more now he’s realised she is worth something, it focusses on the cost of changing yourself for someone else and presents the idea, that she will come back stronger now she see’s clearly after all the times he’s lashed out at her. She knows her worth. Amy-Leigh Storer‘s delivery is hugely robust and impassioned. The musical itself seems promising and it will be interesting to see how the interactive side of it works.
Book & Lyrics by Dave Payne, Writer and Composer Aron Sood, Orchestrated by Will Turkwell & Starring Madeleine Leslay, Lenny Turner & Amy-Leigh Storer
To conclude, Viable is 90 minutes well spent, it provides an audience for some immensely promising work and as a concept is strong. As it has set out to do, it fiercely champions new writing. Whilst the polished multi-cam nature and editing of the digital production is also to be commended. You can stream Viable until 3rd July and tickets can be found here, if you intend to watch in a group please do consider buying more than one ticket to support the venture and also consider making a donation to The Bread and Roses Theatre as well.
Production Team: Camera Operator & Editor Ryan Powell, Camera Operator Sarraa Ali, Sound Engineer & Editor Seah Hotson, Production Assistant Nathalie Maher, Produced by Gwenan Bain & Sarah Hartland Productions